How vaccine enemies co-opted the ‘my body, my choice’ slogan: pictures


Steve Bova (center) travels from Maryland to Los Angeles on the “People’s Convoy” to protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Although he uses a phrase that originated in the abortion rights movement, he is opposed to abortion.

Rachel Bluth/Kaiser Health News


hide caption

caption toggle

Rachel Bluth/Kaiser Health News


Steve Bova (center) travels from Maryland to Los Angeles in the “People’s Convoy” to protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Although he uses a phrase that originated in the abortion rights movement, he is opposed to abortion.

Rachel Bluth/Kaiser Health News

In the shadow of Los Angeles’ Art Deco City Hall, musicians descended on the stage, children’s faces were painted, and families picnicked on chairs. Amidst the celebration, people waved flags, wore T-shirts and sold buttons – all emblazoned with the familiar slogan: “My Body, My Choice”.

This was not a rally for abortion rights. This was not a protest against the recent decision of the US Supreme Court that gutted Roe v. Wade. It was the “Defeat the Mandates Rally,” a jubilant gathering of anti-vaccine activists in April to protest the few remaining COVID-19 guidelines, such as mask mandates for mass transit and vaccination requirements for health care workers.

Similar scenes played out across the country during the pandemic. Armed with the language of the abortion rights movement, anti-vaccine forces have joined forces with right-wing causes to protest against COVID precautions.

KHN logo

And they succeed. Vaccine opponents have appropriated “My Body, My Choice,” a slogan that has been inextricably linked to reproductive rights for nearly half a century, to fight mask and vaccine mandates across the country — including in California, where lawmakers have vowed to adopt the strictest vaccine requirements in the US

As the anti-vaccine contingent made gains, the abortion rights movement suffered blow after blow, culminating in the June 24 Supreme Court decision that ended the federal constitutional right to abortion. The decision leaves it up to the states to decide, and up to 26 states are expected to ban or severely restrict abortion in the coming months.

Now that anti-vaccination groups have laid claim to “My Body, My Choice,” abortion rights groups are distancing themselves from it — marking a stunning annexation of political messages.

“It’s a really smart combination of reproductive rights and the movement’s framing of the issue,” said Lisa Ikemoto, a law professor at UC Davis’ Institute for Feminist Studies. “It reinforces the meaning of choice in the anti-vaccine space and deflects the meaning of that word in the reproductive rights space.”

Framing the decision to vaccinate as a highly personal decision also obscures its public health implications, Ikemoto said, because vaccines are used to protect not just one person, but a community of people by stopping the spread of disease to those who cannot to protect themselves.

Celinda Lake, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist and pollster, said “My Body, My Choice” is no longer sitting well with Democrats because they associate it with anti-vaccination sentiment.


The phrase “My body, my choice” was ubiquitous at an April rally against vaccine mandates in Los Angeles. The slogan began as a catchphrase for abortion rights, but has become a favorite of vaccine skeptics.

Rachel Bluth/Kaiser Health News


hide caption

caption toggle

Rachel Bluth/Kaiser Health News


The phrase “My body, my choice” was ubiquitous at an April rally against vaccine mandates in Los Angeles. The slogan began as a catchphrase for abortion rights, but has become a favorite of vaccine skeptics.

Rachel Bluth/Kaiser Health News

“What’s really unique about this is that you don’t usually see one party’s base take the message of the other party’s base — and succeed,” she said. “That’s what makes this so fascinating.”

Jodi Hicks, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, acknowledged that the appropriation of abortion rights terminology has worked against the reproductive rights movement. “At this point, to have these messages co-opted and distract from the work that we’re doing and use them to spread misinformation is frustrating and frustrating,” Hicks said.

She said the movement is already moving away from the phrase. Even when abortion is legal, she said, some women can’t “choose” to have one because of financial or other obstacles. The movement now focuses more heavily on access to health care, using catchphrases like “Ban our bodies” and “Say Abortion,” Hicks said.

The rise of the anti-vaccination movement

Vaccination hasn’t always been so political, said Jennifer Reich, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado-Denver who has written a book about why parents refuse vaccines for their children. Opposition to vaccines grew in the 1980s among parents concerned about school vaccine requirements. Those parents said they didn’t have enough information about the potential harmful effects of vaccines, but it wasn’t partisan at the time, Reich said.

The issue exploded onto the political scene after a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland sickened at least 140 people in 2014 and 2015. When California lawmakers decided to bar parents from seeking personal belief exemptions for mandatory childhood vaccines, opponents organized around the idea of ​​”medical choice” and “medical freedom.” Those opponents spanned the political spectrum, Reich said.

Then came COVID. The Trump administration has politicized the pandemic from the start, starting with masks and stay-at-home orders. Republican leaders and white evangelicals applied this strategy on the ground, Reich said, arguing against vaccine mandates when COVID vaccines were still only theoretical — scaring people with rhetoric about the loss of personal choice and images of vaccine passports.

They’ve gained traction despite the apparent disparity, she said: Often the same people who oppose vaccine requirements — arguing that it’s a matter of choice — oppose abortion rights.

“What’s really changed is that in the last two or so years it’s become highly partisan,” Reich said.

Joshua Coleman leads V is for Vaccine, a group that opposes vaccine mandates. He said he uses the phrase strategically depending on the state in which he works.

“In a state or a city that’s more pro-life, they’re not going to connect with that message, they don’t believe in full bodily autonomy,” Coleman said.

But in places like California, he uses his “My body, my choice” rhetoric where he thinks it will be effective, like the annual Women’s March, where he says he can sometimes get feminists to consider his point of view.

Co-opting the tagline

Perceptions of the word “choice” have changed over time, said Alyssa Wolff, a cognitive linguist in Oakland, California. The word now conjures up an image of an isolated decision that doesn’t affect the wider community, she said. This can paint the abortion seeker as self-centered and the vaccine rejector as an individual making a personal choice about their health, Wolff said.

Beyond linguistics, anti-vaccination activists are playing politics, deliberately trolling abortion rights groups by using their words against them, Wolff said. “I really believe there’s a little bit of ‘eff you’ in it,” Wolfe said. “We’ll take your phrase.”

Tom Blodgett, a retired Spanish instructor from Chico, Calif., wore a “My Body, My Choice” T-shirt — complete with an image of a cartoon syringe — to the Defeat the Mandates rally in Los Angeles. It was an “irony,” he said, meant to expose what he saw as the hypocrisy of Democrats who support abortion and vaccine mandates. Blodgett said she is “pro-life” and believes that COVID vaccines are not immunizations but a form of gene therapy, which is not true.

For Blodgett and many other anti-vaccination activists, there is no inconsistency in this position. They say that abortion is not a personal health decision, like getting an injection: it is simply murder.

“Women say they can have an abortion because it’s their body,” Blodgett said. “If this is a valid thing for a lot of people, why do I have to get an injection of some kind of mixture?”

About a week later and nearly 400 miles north in Sacramento, state lawmakers heard testimony on abortion and COVID vaccine bills. Two protests, one against abortion and one against vaccine mandates, came together. Truck drivers from the People’s Convoy, a group opposing the COVID mandates that has toured the country with its “medical freedom” message, testified against a bill that would prevent police from investigating miscarriages or stillbirths as homicides. Anti-abortion activists have lined up to oppose a bill that would update reporting requirements in the state’s vaccine registry.

“My Body, My Choice” was everywhere: children petting police horses outside the Capitol wore T-shirts with the slogan, and truck drivers watching a sword dance held signs above their heads.

By then, two tough legislative proposals to mandate COVID vaccines for schoolchildren and most workers had already been shelved without a vote. One controversial vaccination proposal remains: a bill that would allow children 12 and older to receive COVID vaccines without parental consent.

Lawmakers have since watered down the measure, raising the minimum age to 15, and await crucial votes. They turned their attention to the latest political earthquake: abortion.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. It is an editorially independent operating program of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.