Who's supporting the lawsuit attacking California's new vaccination exemption law? The usual suspects.

Who's supporting the lawsuit attacking California's new vaccination exemption law? The usual suspects.

At least three lawsuits have been filed challenging California's new vaccine exemption law, which eliminated "personal belief" exemptions. In one, Whitlow v. California Department of Education ("Whitlow"), the court heard arguments on the plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Injunction on August 12th. (The suit seeks only injunctive relief, not monetary damages.) According to the San Diego Tribune, a ruling is expected on the plaintiffs' Motion the week of August 22nd, just as children are beginning a new school year.

California enacted Senate Bill 277 last year, eliminating the personal belief exemption (and thereby any religious exemption) to school vaccination requirements, after a contentious battle that sent the anti-vaccination crowd into overdrive. The law took effect on July 1st of this year. As is often the case with new legislation, implementation in the over 1,000 California school districts hit some snags. For example, questions have arisen regarding the grounds for medical exemptions (the only remaining exemption to school vaccination requirements). In fact, there are troubling concerns that some physicians may be, in effect, selling vaccination exemptions. How the state would deal with special education students, who enjoy specific federal protection for their right to public education, is another issue that had to be ironed out.

The plaintiffs' claims in Whitlow are thoroughly analyzed by law professor Dorit Reiss on the Skeptical Raptor blog (also here) as are the claims in the first suit challenging the new law, Buck v. State of California. The third lawsuit, also brought to my attention by Prof. Reiss, is RICO action brought against the Governor, various legislators, and their wives by a person representing himself. 

To briefly summarize, the plaintiffs in Whitlow are a collection of parents who don't want to vaccinate their children as required by California law. As Prof. Reiss points out, these parents offer up a number of factually-challenged reasons for refusing to vaccinate, such as confusion between causation and correlation in imagined adverse reactions to vaccination. Four organizations are also plaintiffs. (We'll return to those in a moment.) The plaintiffs claim that the new law violates various state and federal constitutional rights, as well as federal and state laws, claims that Prof. Reiss analyzes in detail. We won't further peruse those here, except to note that, as she does, many of the same allegations were considered and rejected when the law was extensively debated in the legislature and in public forums.

The Whitlow plaintiffs suffered an early, and somewhat embarrassing, loss when the judge summarily ruled against them on their Ex Parte Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, finding it "facially and procedurally defective." In support of their motion, the plaintiffs stated that "special education students in year-round IEP Programs face immediate expulsion."  But the court noted that there was no allegation that any child actually currently enrolled in a school had been expelled or would face expulsion if SB 277 was enforced. Procedurally, the plaintiffs failed to certify that they had made any effort to serve their motion on the defendants. According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, you have to explain to the court what efforts you've made to contact the other side and let them know you're trying to get a TRO against them. It seems particularly inexplicable that notice wasn't attempted considering the fact that the defendants are various governmental units and officials of the State of California.

The plaintiffs then moved forward with their Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, which was thoroughly briefed by both sides. It is this Motion that was heard and on which we await a ruling by the court.

With that lengthy introduction, let's turn to our attention to the individuals and groups supporting this effort.

Three of the organizational plaintiffs will be familiar to the science-based medicine community. One is the Alliance for Natural Health-USA (ANH). In this particular complaint, the ANH alleges that its

"mission is to protect access to natural health options and a toxin free lifestyle, including the ability to decline vaccination or modify the vaccine schedule for one's children. The ANH - USA consists of over 500,000 members, including 78,000 California residents, many of whom will be harmed by SB 277 because they will not be able to make their own decisions for their school age children based on their beliefs about vaccine-related harms."

Compare this to what the ANH told the court in a different lawsuit it filed in 2009 (Alliance for Natural Health US v. Sebelius, Civil Action No. 09-1546 (BAH), United States District Court for the District of Columbia):

"The ANH US protects the right of integrative medical practitioners to practice complementary and alternative medicine and protects the right of consumers to choose the healthcare options they deem best based on fully informed consent. ANH US is a membership-based organization with more than 400 members consisting of consumers; healthcare practitioners; food, and dietary supplement company members; and 40,000 advocate members. Likewise, ANH US professional and industry members have a particular interest in the dissemination of truthful nutrient information about dietary supplements they recommend and sell, . . . In particular, ANH US board members, comprised of eight representatives of the natural health (consumer, industry, and professional) community . . . " [Emphasis added.]

Thus, the ANH has grown either by 124,900% or 1,150% in 7 years, depending on whether they are counting "members" or "advocate members" among their ranks in claiming 500,000 members.  More to the point, though, we see where the real economic interests of the ANH lies: with "integrative practitioners" who want to ensure that they remain free to eschew science-based medicine and sell dietary supplements to their patients and the dietary supplement companies who support them.

The other familiar plaintiff is the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization that supports downright nutty anti-vaccination ideology. As Harriet Hall, MD, discovered in her research, an issue of their journal devoted to vaccines made claims like:

  • "We are struggling against one of the most dangerous, diabolical and powerful cults in the U.S.; that is, 'science-based' and 'evidence-based medicine' within the Church of Scientism."
  • Vaccination is "injecting cow belly pus and horse hoof pus into babies."
  • Bill Gates is "a delusional global dictator."
  • Paul Offit is one of the "principal harbingers of vaccine barbarism."

They also recommend homeopathic prophalaxis instead of vaccines.

Citizens for Health is another plaintiff, a "health freedom" organization on quackwatch's list of questionable organizations. It's Vice President, James Gormley is a "natural products" industry consultant and author who thinks the FDA is engaged in a "war" on "health freedom" and that "chronic Lyme" can be treated with "nutritional therapies."

The fourth plaintiff organization, "E4A,"  is a cipher: its website doesn't tell us who is on the board or what type of organization it is. The complaint alleges it is a Nevada non-profit organization whose members don't want to vaccinate their children for one reason or another and whose children will be excluded from school if they refuse to have them vaccinated per state law. According to Nevada public records, E4A was formed in June of this year and has two officer/directors, Rebecca P. Estepp and Christopher J. Jones. Estepp is a mother who believes her son's autism is related to his being vaccinated and who was active in opposing SB 277, as a member of the California Coalition for Health Choice, an operation that is apparently run by the Canary Party, with whom anti-vaccination propagandist Mark Blaxill is also associated.

The named plaintiffs aren't the only ones behind this effort. The International Chiropractors Association recently sent out an email soliciting funds to support the lawsuit, describing it as a "critical effort."  The lead counsel in Whitlow is none other than James S. Turner, ICA's own legal counsel since 1973, according to the email. Chiropractors have long been ideologically opposed to vaccination and continue to be so despite the overwhelming evidence of safety and efficacy. Of course, chiropractors also believe in the mythical subluxation and its ability to affect health, making them not the most reliable source of information about health care, not to mention basic anatomy.

There is also a "gofundme" campaign run by Health Choice United/Our Kids Our Choice, a "grassroots organization for medical freedom" which was active in opposing SB 277. It is now soliciting funds to support the Whitlow case. Like E4A, its website does not disclose who governs the organization. So far, the campaign has raised over $45,000. According to its gofundme page,

"Among those publically [sic] supporting and endorsing this legal effort are: March Against Monsanto, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny ; Eric Gladen; Dr. Bob Sears, Esai Morales; The Greater Good; JB Handley, founder of Generation Rescue; California Chiropractic Association."

Let's see here. March Against Monsanto is an organization manages to squeeze in anti-vaccination pseudoscience along with its anti-GMO pseudoscience. Sherri Tenpenny is a germ denier who believes "toxins" cause disease. Eric Gladden made the faux vaccine-autism "documentary" Trace Amounts, which was promoted by Jim Carrey and other anti-vaccination celebs. Dr. Bob Sears is the "I'm not anti-vaccine" anti-vaccine pediatrician who compared SB 277 to the Holocaust. The Greater Good is an anti-vaccine movie masquerading as a "balanced" look at vaccines. JB Handley and Generation Rescue are well-known anti-vaccinationists who continue to hype the thoroughly discredited autism-vaccine "connection" and other total nonsense about vaccination. The California Chiropractic Association is, well, a bunch of chiropractors. (Esai Morales is an actor I had not previously associated with the anti-vaxx movement.)

I'm sure if we looked under more rocks we would find more supporters of the Whitlow lawsuit, financial and otherwise. But, from what I've seen, it's just the same tired, old coalition of opportunists, conspiracy-minded anti-vaccine cranks, "integrative" health care providers, chiropractors and dietary supplement shills, plus some undoubtedly well-meaning parents who've been totally misguided by same, driving this effort. It's an attempted re-do of the battle to defeat SB 277, just moved to a different branch of government. 

Points of Interest 08/14/2016
Cupping in Portland

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