South Carolina Lawmaker Re-Introduces Cervical Cancer Prevention Bill That GOP Governor Vetoed Last Year

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC)

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC)

January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and one South Carolina lawmaker is taking the opportunity to revive his cervical cancer prevention efforts after Republican Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) shot him down last year. State Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-SC) is reintroducing a bill to encourage HPV vaccination among middle schoolers — the same legislation that Haley vetoed last June even though it passed both chambers of the state legislature with broad bipartisan support.

Sellers’ bill would simply require state health officials to offer the HPV vaccine and educational material to seventh graders, and it wouldn’t make it mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children. At a press conference to announce the legislation’s reintroduction, Sellers explained that he is most concerned about expanding access to the vaccine to the families that otherwise may not have heard about it or may not have been able to afford it. “There are sisters, there are daughters, there are mothers who die every day from cervical cancer,” Sellers said. “And if we can save one life, I think it’s worth fighting for.”

Seller’s announcement is particularly timely. Just last week, a joint report released by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute found that HPV-related cancers have been on the rise over the last two years, even as other types of cancer have declined.

Medical experts partly attribute the rising cancer rates to the fact that not enough teenagers are taking the HPV vaccine, and aim to get at least 80 percent of all pre-teens vaccinated by next decade. Even though the CDC approved the Gardasil vaccine for children above 9 years old back in 2009 — and federal guidelines urge all young women to receive Gardasil starting at the age of 11 to help mitigate their risk of developing cervical cancer — less than half of girls ages 13 to 17 got at least one dose of the three-part vaccine over the past two years.

Conservative scaremongering over the vaccine — suggesting it could somehow lead to “sexual promiscuity,” even though doctors simply consider it a preventative measure like any other type of vaccination — has successfully transformed cancer prevention into a politicized issue. South Carolina itself has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the nation, and Sellers wants to give the governor yet another chance to decide what she wants to do about it.