4th Circuit rules against W.Va. mom in immunization case

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. — A lawyer for a West Virginia woman who unsuccessfully challenged the state’s child immunization law said yesterday that she will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

“We’re going to push this appeal as far as we can,” said attorney Patricia Finn. A federal appeals court last week ruled against Finn’s client, Jennifer Workman, in her lawsuit against West Virginia and Mingo County health and education officials.

Workman claims the state’s immunization mandate for all public school children conflicts with her religious belief that a child must not be injected with any potentially harmful substance. Her first child developed autism around the time she was immunized, and Workman feared the same would happen to her younger child.

She sued after Lenore Pre-K to 8 School refused to admit her daughter without the vaccinations against childhood diseases. U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin dismissed the lawsuit last year, saying there is little evidence that standard vaccinations are not safe.

Finn said she was disappointed that a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 22 unanimously affirmed Goodwin’s decision. The panel said in its ruling that the Supreme Court has consistently held that states can require the vaccinations without providing any religious exemption.

“Although we respect the court’s opinion, it’s very, very troubling,” Finn said.

She said the court did not require any proof that immunizations are effective. But even if they are, she said, “to make someone do it when they have religious objections is outrageous.”

Joanna Tabit of Charleston, a lawyer for the Mingo County schools, said she was pleased with the appeals court’s ruling.

“We’re on the forefront of these public health issues,” she said. “These statutes are designed to protect the public health and welfare while respecting individual rights.”

The West Virginia law allows an exemption if a parent presents a certificate from a reputable physician showing immunization “is impossible or improper or other sufficient reason why such immunizations have not been done.” Workman submitted such a certificate from a child psychiatrist, but it was rejected by school and state health officials.

Workman still lives in West Virginia but sends her daughter to school in Kentucky, which allows a religious exemption for immunizations.

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