Immunity From Evil?
Vaccines and Abortion

Jameson Taylor
Reproduced with Permission

"You've got to warn everyone and tell them! Soylent Green is made of people!" Science fiction fans may recall the 1973 classic Soylent Green, in which a wily detective played by Charlton Heston reveals that government food rations foisted upon the starving masses are manufactured from human body parts.

Discovering that several common vaccines are derived from baby body parts may not be quite as bad as eating Soylent Green, but for many pro-lifers it's a close second. While most parents are shocked to learn their children have been injected with vaccines cultured on and containing residual components of aborted fetal tissue, anger soon turns to anxiety once physicians and school administrators point out the vaccines are necessary for children to attend school. Religious and philosophical exemptions, however, are available for those who cannot reconcile the use of these vaccines with either their Christian faith or firmly held moral belief in the sanctity of life.

Scandalous Origins

In the United States, ten different vaccines for chicken pox, hepatitis A, polio, rabies, and rubella are cultured on aborted tissue from two fetal cell lines known as WI-38 and MRC-5. These vaccines are Varivax (chicken pox), Havrix (hep-A), Vaqta (hep-A), Twinrix (hep-A/hep-B), Poliovax (polio), Imovax (rabies), Meruvax II (rubella), MR-VAX (measles/rubella), Biavax II (mumps/rubella), and M-M-R II (measles/mumps/rubella). Alternative, pro-life vaccines are available in this country for all but the chicken pox, hepatitis A, and rubella inoculations.

The WI-38 "human-diploid" cell culture was developed in July 1962 from a "therapeutically aborted" three-month-old girl. "WI" is an acronym used by the Wistar Institute, an aggressive proponent of embryonic stem cell research. The August 1969 issue of the American Journal of Diseases of Children explains WI-38 was taken from a voluntary abortion performed in Sweden: "This fetus was chosen by Dr. Sven Gard, specifically for this purpose [use as a vaccine culture]. Both parents are known, and unfortunately for the story, they are married to each other, still alive and well, and living in Stockholm, presumably. The abortion was done because they felt they had too many children."

MRC-5 is derived from the lung tissue of a fourteen-week-old baby boy. MRC stands for Medical Research Council, a research center funded by British taxpayers. According to Coriell Cell Repositories, "The MRC-5 cell line was developed in September 1966 from lung tissue taken from a 14-week fetus aborted for psychiatric reasons from a 27-year-old physically healthy woman."

Development of the rubella vaccine actually involved not one, but twenty-eight abortions. Twenty-seven abortions were performed to isolate the virus and one abortion (WI-38) to culture the vaccine. The vaccine's strain is called RA 27/3 (R=Rubella, A=Abortus, 27=27th fetus tested, 3=3rd tissue explanted). Rubella, or "German measles," is usually a harmless childhood disease. Ironically, rubella is most dangerous for preborn infants, who have a 20 to 25 percent chance of contracting congenital rubella syndrome if their mothers catch rubella during the first trimester. Scientists at the Wistar Institute took advantage of the 1964-65 rubella epidemic to legally acquire fetal tissue from at least twenty-seven so-called therapeutic abortions conducted on women at risk for rubella. Since the live virus was not detected until the twenty-seventh abortion, the preceding twenty-six abortions were apparently performed on perfectly healthy babies. By contrast, Japanese researchers obtained a live virus by swabbing the throat of an infected child.

Cooperation with Abortion

In ethical parlance, using vaccines manufactured from fetal tissue entails "material cooperation" with abortion. Material cooperation may or may not be sinful depending on the circumstances surrounding the act. Four conditions determine whether using such vaccines is licit: the seriousness of the sin of abortion, the necessity of vaccination, the possibility of causing scandal, and the vaccines' role in encouraging additional abortions. Many pro-life ethicists believe using these vaccines constitutes "remote material cooperation" with abortion -- cooperation excused by the distance of the consumer from the original abortions, the necessity of vaccine use, and the unlikelihood that purchasing the vaccines will cause future abortions. In August 2001, the U.S. bishops issued a statement allowing that parents "when they have no practical alternative, may use vaccines to protect their health and the health of their loved ones without serious sin, even if the vaccines were cultured in fetal cells that ultimately came from an elective abortion." The bishops were forced to address the question when President Bush used the abortion-tainted chicken pox vaccine to justify federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

But "practical alternatives" do exist for these vaccines. No medical necessity requires the vaccines be cultured on aborted fetal tissue. Safe and effective inoculations grown on animal cells or chick embryo are available for all but chicken pox, hepatitis A, and rubella -- diseases mild enough to allow for the acquisition of natural immunity. Eighty-five to ninety percent of children develop immunity to chicken pox and rubella by the sixth grade. Hepatitis A is almost completely unknown in the United States -- not because of the vaccine, which was introduced only in 1995 -- but owing to public sanitation systems. In countries where hepatitis A is prevalent, 70 percent of preschoolers who contract the disease don't even exhibit symptoms. Most children's chances of being harmed by chicken pox, hepatitis A, or rubella are arguably equal to risks associated with adverse reactions to the vaccines themselves.

Using abortion-tainted vaccines encourages abortion just as does purchasing any other product derived from fetal tissue. Indeed, these vaccines were the first fetal tissue therapies to gain widespread acceptance, and their popularity is frequently cited to promote fetal tissue research agendas. Over the past ten years, numerous Congressmen have referred to the vaccines to garner support for federally subsidized research on fetal tissue. The University of Nebraska likewise excused its fetal tissue program by invoking both the vaccines and the Church's toleration of their use. In Forbes v. Napolitano (2001), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals used the polio vaccine, among other things, to strike down an Arizona law banning experimentation on aborted fetal tissue. The court specifically ruled fetal tissue research must be legal to guarantee women the fullest possible range of "reproductive decisions."

Your Rights as a Parent

Many ethicists, including the bishops, believe these vaccines are distinguishable from other types of fetal tissue research because they "use self-perpetuating cell lines." The cultures that produce these vaccines, however, are not immortal. All normal cells possess a finite lifespan known as the "Hayflick limit." After about fifty divisions, WI-38 and MRC-5 will be exhausted. If when this day comes, pharmaceutical companies know they can create new cultures from aborted tissue without loss of profit, they will certainly do so because aborted fetal tissue is easier to use and more economical to obtain than other culture mediums. The pharmaceutical industry, in fact, has already developed an additional vaccine culture derived from the "socially indicated," elective abortion of an eighteen-week-old baby. PER.C6, as the culture is called, is currently being tested for use with at least seven new vaccines.

Absent definitive guidance from the Vatican, parents must determine for themselves -- after much prayer and study -- whether they can conscientiously use these vaccines. While most public and private schools require chicken pox and rubella immunizations, several court rulings suggest pro-lifers have a First Amendment right to refuse to use abortion-tainted vaccines. State public health officials and/or school administrators cannot lawfully second-guess sincere religious or moral objections to vaccine use. In addition to honoring parents' constitutional rights, Catholic school administrators must heed the Church's magisterial teaching regarding the inalienable right and duty of parents to make decisions affecting the welfare of their children. Parents who object in conscience to abortion-derived vaccines may apply for religious or philosophical exemptions by contacting their state department of health.

Jameson Taylor is the author of America’s Drug Deal: Vaccines, Abortion, Corruption. For more information, call 540-636-3549 or visit This article was originally published in the January/February 2003 issue of Lay Witness magazine.