Steve Chapman

Bachmann insists the vaccine is "a very dangerous drug." After the debate, she reported, she met a woman whose daughter developed mental retardation in reaction to the shot.

Would she believe someone who told her the vaccine came from space aliens? The head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, made up of physicians who devote their lives to protecting innocent children, said of Bachmann's claim, "There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement." It notes that the vaccine has "an excellent safety record."

Social conservatives also fear that the inoculation condones and encourages adolescent sex. But if the danger of pregnancy, AIDS and other diseases is not enough to deter a teenager, we can assume HPV will not be a deal-breaker.

Bachmann and others detest the mandate as an invasion of parental rights. But we don't leave it to parents to decide whether to inoculate against other diseases. We require immunization to protect children (and everyone else) from the consequences of bad parental choices. As early as 1905, the Supreme Court has rejected the notion that anyone has a constitutional right not to be vaccinated.

Parents are entitled to preach, demand and enforce chastity for their children. But if a child spurns that option, the penalty should not be a deadly, avoidable disease. Besides, even abstinent youngsters can be infected -- through sexual assault.

The mandate is hardly beyond criticism. When Perry signed his order, I faulted him for taking the compulsory approach, not because it was an outrageous violation of liberty, but because voluntary efforts had not been given time to succeed and the mandate might provoke resistance. That fear turned out to be accurate, but it doesn't make him a Big Government bully.

Perry was overzealous in combating a real danger. Bachmann is overzealous in hyping phony ones.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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