July 1, 2022 – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas mentioned a controversial claim about COVID-19 vaccines in a dissenting opinion on Thursday.
The case involved 16 New York state health care workers who challenged the state government’s vaccine mandate for people in their line of work.
"They object on religious grounds to all available COVID-19 vaccines because they were developed using cell lines derived from aborted children," Thomas wrote in his dissent.
But no vaccine being used in the United States contains the cells of aborted fetuses, medical experts have said.
Writing for the National Library of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine professor Richard Zimmerman, MD, explained that “cell lines developed from past abortions are used in the testing or development of certain COVID-19 vaccines,” but “the final products do not contain fetal cells. The mRNA vaccines are not manufactured in cell lines, although testing of mRNA vaccines reportedly uses cell lines.”
The Supreme Court voted 6-3 to not hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that upheld the New York vaccine mandate for health care workers. Politico reported that all 16 health care workers who sued lost their jobs, lost hospital admitting privileges, or decided to receive the vaccine.
Justices Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch were in the minority.
Among the workers’ complaints was that the state allowed medical exemptions but not religious exemptions. Thomas favored granting a petition that would allow deliberations on whether such a vaccine mandate can be fair if it doesn’t allow both kinds of exemptions.
“Over the last few years, the Federal Government and the States have enacted a host of emergency measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Many were not neutral toward religious exercise or generally applicable,” Thomas wrote.
He wrote that the issue should be debated “now in the ordinary course, before the next crisis forces us again to decide complex legal issues in an emergency posture.”