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Pro-life and anti-COVID vaccine mandate?

| Monday, October 11, 2021

When it comes to vaccine mandates, many conservatives are borrowing a pro-choice mantra: “My body, my choice.” On one hand, this is a smart tactic. It points out a logical inconsistency in the pro-choice, pro-COVID-19 vaccine mandate camp. If what I do with my body is my choice, how can you force someone to take the vaccine?

But some on the right have gone beyond this and use the slogan as an actual argument against the vaccine mandate. This is obviously very strange because they have become inconsistent while pointing out inconsistency among liberals (there is much more room for nuance and discussion here, but I must move on).

So how can a conservative be pro-life, anti-COVID vaccine mandate and still be consistent? One way would be to note we are drawing a false equivalency between abortion and COVID vaccines. It seems that the main, unspoken and often unrealized error is that the question assumes abortion, like deciding whether or not to have the COVID vaccine, is a healthcare decision. It is concerned with the body (bodies, actually), but it is not healthcare. A simple dictionary definition of healthcare is enough to prove my point: “Efforts made to maintain or restore physical, mental, or emotional well-being especially by trained and licensed professionals.” Except when the mother’s life is in danger, maintaining and improving health is neither the intention (what abortion is intended to do) or the consequence of abortion. Taking a child’s life is not supporting health but is doing the opposite. Therefore, abortion is not a healthcare decision. But deciding whether or not to take the COVID vaccine clearly is. The intention is not to injure or kill but rather to promote the health and wellness of the patient in question. While not getting the vaccine can increase the chances of hospitalizations and death (for themselves and others), these potential results are not necessarily the case and have not been the case for the overwhelming majority of people. Being unvaccinated is indeed a risk, but it is quite wrong to put not having a COVID vaccine and having an abortion on the same plane. One is an actual healthcare decision; the other is not. One carries risks; the other is only successful if it guarantees death. These two actions are in separate categories. It is perfectly logical, then, to be pro-life and anti-COVID vaccine mandates.

“Sure, there is a categorical difference that allows you to deal with abortion and a COVID vaccine mandate differently,” I can imagine someone saying. “But the point you’re not addressing is that you’re pro-life, yet you oppose a vaccine mandate which would save lives. How can you do that?” The objection suggests that if one were really pro-life, they would support any law that would save lives. But this is not actually the pro-life position. If it were, then we should mask up, social distance and quarantine if we have even a slight cough (after all, it could be more than a cough) until Kingdom come and never go back to school, the office, restaurants or the homes of the elderly for as long as we live. These efforts would no doubt save lives. But we cringe at the mere suggestion of it. It’s just not right, even if it saves lives. Why? For one thing, it’s a gross overreach of governmental power. If we were to really have a society that legislated everything where lives could be saved, we’d have an authoritarian state where every single part of our day would be dictated and regulated. The government should certainly prioritize saving lives whenever it can, but it must not overstep its powers and boundaries, even when its intentions are noble.

This brings us to a second and more important reason: Life is more than just living; there are things in life more important than mere survival. When we make survival our ultimate goal, our god, we cease to truly live. We will have lost sight of that thing which makes life meaningful. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs. Those who care for something more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved.”

I am no longer talking about vaccine mandates but only the principle forwarded in the objection. To apply our discussion to the mandate, we need to determine if a COVID vaccine mandate is an overreach of government power. If it is, then pro-lifers should have no problem opposing it, despite its benefits. So it is overreach?

It’s quite possible. It’s a healthcare decision where there are legitimate reasons one may decide to hold off on the vaccine. The lack of five and ten-year studies could lead one, especially one already at a lower risk for hospitalization and death, to wonder if the pros truly do outweigh the cons. While I did receive the vaccine, I understand this concern, and we should encourage those who have these misgivings to talk with their doctor and determine what’s best for them.

I think it’s important that the government promote the vaccine and strongly urge the public to take it, but I don’t think a mandate should be in play here. In this way, I mirror Joe Biden’s stance last December. In discussing the vaccine, we must not demonize the unvaccinated and shut them down before they even speak. Some objections to the vaccine don’t hold much water, but others may surprise us by their reasonableness. It’s lazy to simply label the unvaccinated as uncaring or conspiracy theorists. You can be reasonably cautious about getting the vaccine. If we believe this to be true, we should not enact a broad mandate but should allow families and individuals the room to weigh the risks themselves and seek medical advice from trusted sources. Not imposing a mandate doesn’t mean this decision is unimportant. The most important decisions of your life have not been decided by the government for you. It simply means it’s a decision beyond the scope of governmental authority and should be left to informed personal choice.

Andrew Sveda is a junior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science with a supplementary major in theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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