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New York bans religion exemption in vaccinations

Calling it a public health emergency, Gov. Andrew Cuomo immediately signed the bill, adding New York to a small handful of states that do not allow exemptions on religious grounds.

New York bans religion exemption in vaccinations

Calling it a public health emergency, Gov. Andrew Cuomo immediately signed the bill, adding New York to a small handful of states that do not allow exemptions on religious grounds.

The issue is particularly acute in New York, where many measles cases have originated in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and in Rockland County, where so-called vaccine symposiums have featured speakers who encouraged people to shun immunization.

The tension over the issue was readily apparent in the Capitol on Thursday as hundreds of angry opponents — many with young children and infants — pleaded with lawmakers to reject the bill, sometimes invoking the will of God, other times their rights as parents.

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Assemblyman Michael Montesano, R-Long Island, framed the bill as “an attack on people’s First Amendment rights.” He added, “It’s still the individual parent, who is raising this child, that has the fundamental right to decide what happens with their child in all facets of their life.”

Others cast their votes in personal terms. Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-Rockland County, noted his county had 266 confirmed cases, with more than a dozen hospitalizations. His 1-year-old daughter had to accelerate her vaccinations, he said, because of the outbreak there.

“Our job is not just to react to epidemics,” Zebrowski said before voting yes. “Our job as legislators is to prevent epidemics.”

As the Assembly vote slowly came in, the speaker, Carl E. Heastie, was forced to come to the floor and count votes, calling recalcitrant members to coax the bill toward the 76-vote threshold needed for passage. Several prominent Democrats, including the chairman of the health committee, Richard N. Gottfried, bucked Assembly leadership and voted no. In the end, it narrowly passed, 77-53.

The state Senate, where the vote was assured because of solid support in a Democratic majority, approved the bill, 36-26.

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The current measles outbreak has spread to 28 states, with more than 1,000 cases in total, the highest number since 1992, when more than 2,000 cases were recorded. Highly contagious, measles can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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