Christie's bizarre record on "choice": Why his views on vaccines and abortion show he's lost touch

The New Jersey governor supports choice when it comes to kids spreading diseases. Not so much for women's health

Published February 2, 2015 6:53PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
(Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday that he supports “balance” and “choice” when it comes to parents vaccinating their kids. “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide,” he said during a news conference held outside a London facility that manufactures -- wait for it -- vaccines.

Christie, it seems, is pro-choice when it comes to letting your child act as a carrier for preventable diseases, but not so much when it comes to deciding whether to have a kid in the first place. The Republican governor supported abortion rights for a time during his early political career, but said that he changed his mind while his wife was pregnant with their second child. (This change of heart took place, perhaps conveniently, around the same time he was losing a primary for an assembly seat to a staunchly anti-choice Republican.) And Christie’s stance on abortion is an issue that he’s become increasingly vocal about as he gears up to enter the 2016 presidential fray.

Last month, at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Christie said:

Now, I ran in New Jersey as a pro-life candidate in 2009 and I won. And I ran for reelection as a pro-life governor in 2013 and won by 22 points. The notion that our party must abandon our belief in the sanctity of life to be competitive in blue states is simply not true and I am living proof of that fact. You see, I do believe that every life is an individual gift from God, that no life is disposable.

In one way, Christie’s selective embrace of choice, if he’s really a purist when it comes to the government meddling in people’s personal medical affairs, makes no sense. Why invite the government to overregulate a procedure that one in three women will have in their lifetimes (and that also happens to be safer than a colonoscopy) while calling for a more hands off approach when it comes to recommending safe and lifesaving vaccines?

And his “live and let live” approach to parents flouting medical consensus and compromising public safety by not vaccinating their children is also hard to square with his decision in October to forcibly quarantine a nurse who had tested negative for the Ebola virus despite warnings from the CDC that such a move was both unnecessary and counterproductive.

Christie’s choice calculus, if I can sketch it out, appears to go something like this:

The government shouldn’t be able to tell you what to do with your body, unless you want to move your body out of a mandatory quarantine that has been denounced as medically unnecessary and an intrusion of your fundamental rights and/or you want to not be pregnant.

And Christie's weird political identity only promises to get weirder as he continues to try to convince conservatives that he is not some East Coast RINO who shouldn’t be president. (And on this matter, I totally agree. Chris Christie is not a moderate.) But beyond having antiabortion and anti-vaccine views that track well with Republicans, there is one thing that Christie’s various positions have in common: a tendency to embrace bad science and the politics of fear and misinformation.

The reality of abortion is clear. The procedure is safe. It is unbelievably common. Most women who have abortions are already parents, so this cult-of-death branding that the anti-choice movement has been trying to push just doesn’t hold up. And rather than make the procedure safer, regulations that shutter clinics and force women to wait longer to access care actually have the opposite effect.

In order to believe that the recent flood of anti-choice legislation is a boon for women’s health or at all reflective of the realities patients face when accessing care, you have to believe a bunch of actual nonsense. Which, you’ll notice, is what an alarming number of Republicans holding national and statewide office currently believe. There isn’t a single major medical association in favor of turning clinics into mini-hospitals or that supports bans on the procedure pre-viability or mandatory waiting periods or talking points about "fetal pain."

Likewise, the reality of vaccines is clear. They are safe. They are lifesaving. And while some parents may feel that rejecting vaccines keeps their children “pure," major medical associations have long been clear in denouncing these links as not supported by the evidence.

He's abandoning science, public health policy and common sense to score political points, and I'm sure we'll only see more of it as the primaries loom and Christie looks to flex his conservative muscle.

Update: Gov. Christie's spokesperson Kevin Roberts emailed the following clarification to reporters:

To be clear: The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.


By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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