The South Carolina House of Representatives upheld Governor Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill that would have given middle school students access to a free vaccine which prevents a cancer-causing disease known as human papillomavirus (HPV).
The House’s 54-47 vote Tuesday killed the bill, which would have required the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to provide informational brochures on the vaccine to parents of sixth-graders and make the vaccines optional for rising seventh-graders.
Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg) had pushed for the bill. He said the legislation was meant to help inoculate against a deadly disease and should not be a partisan issue.
“It’s not as if just Democrats get cancer. It’s not as if just Republicans get cancer,” he said on the House floor Tuesday, “It’s not as if just rich or poor get cancer… this is an issue that will rock the families of us all.”
HPV is a sexually-transmitted disease that has been linked to most cervical cancer cases in women. Sellers circulated a letter from MUSC Hollings Cancer Center director Andrew Kraft Tuesday. In it, Kraft warned about the dangers of HPV, saying South Carolina was ranked ninth-highest in the nation for cervical cancer deaths.
But opponents were able to rally against the bill, coalescing after a floor speech by Rep. Chip Huggins (R-Irmo). Huggins said his own daughter had reacted violently to an HPV vaccine (Gardasil) that nearly killed her three years ago. He says she is still receiving treatments after her immune system stopped working properly.
“It has just been a nightmare for her,” he said, “My daughter may not be able to have children as a result of this.”
Supporters say such cases are extremely rare and the risks are easily outweighed by the benefits. But Huggins says he is not so sure, “Nobody wants anyone to have cervical cancer… but the adverse things need to be thought through, too,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
Enough Republicans voted with the governor to easily prevent the two-thirds mark needed for and override. In fact, several members defected from an earlier 63-40 vote in April.
Sellers said he was “very very disappointed” after the vote. In a press release, he called Haley’s veto “callous,” noting she had supported a similar bill in 2007 that would have made the vaccines mandatory. That bill failed.
“The governor’s veto message sounded like it was written by a political consultant rather than a former sponsor of an HPV mandate,” Sellers said in the statement.
Haley told reporters last week that she made a “mistake” in 2007.