Justice Clarence Thomas has been wrongfully portrayed by mainstream media outlets as saying the COVID vaccines contain the cells of aborted cells. The headlines leave the impression that Thomas said this as a personal opinion when writing a dissent on a case over vaccine mandates in New York; however, the reality is that Thomas was just quoting the argument made by the plaintiffs, not making the claim himself.
If the headlines of media reports are the only sources of information anyone had over the case, readers would be left with the impression that Thomas was saying that COVID vaccines were literally made with the cells of aborted babies. Axios reported the news with the headline “Clarence Thomas says COVID vaccines are created with cells from ‘aborted children’”, and the title from Politico (which later corrected the article) said that “Clarence Thomas suggests Covid vaccines are developed using cells of ‘aborted children.’” These headlines, however, are deeply misleading and are easily disproven when reading the text of the dissent filed by Thomas.
Justice Thomas was quoting the petitioners, not making a statement
The case in question, Dr. A et al. v. Hochul, was dismissed by the Supreme Court and it involved a lawsuit brought by 16 healthcare workers who defied New York’s vaccine mandate on religious grounds. The plaintiffs argued that the state discriminated against their religious beliefs because it provided medical but not religious exemptions from the mandates.
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Justice Thomas wrote a brief dissent, joined by Alito and Gorsuch, on the Court’s decision to dismiss the case where he described the reasoning behind the plaintiffs, saying that “They object on religious grounds to all available COVID-19 vaccines because they were developed using cell lines derived from aborted children.” Thomas was not making a statement or giving his opinion on the issue, he was just quoting the argument made by the plaintiffs, something that all Justices do when giving their opinion over any case.
In fact, Thomas makes it perfectly clear that he is paraphrasing the healthcare workers who are suing New York. Thomas wrote “Pet. For Cert 8” immediately after the quote that has been used by Axios and Politico to imply that Thomas is peddling anti-vax talking points in the Court. According to the Supreme Court Style Guide, Justices must use the phrase “Pet. For Cert” accompanied by the docket number of the case when citing or paraphrasing arguments made in a petition for certiorari.
Hence, it is abundantly clear that Thomas was doing what Justices, journalists, and even college students do on a day-to-day basis, paraphrasing the arguments and opinions of a group of people. Even the body of the articles that were published contradict their own headlines makes it clear that Justice Thomas was citing the petitioners.
Media outlets’ fact-check over fetal cell lines lacks a lot of contexts
Moreover, the headlines are not only misleading the reader on what Thomas actually said but also gives a confusing depiction of the claim the petitioners made. The news articles accurately report that the plaintiffs argued that cell lines from abortions were used in the “development of various vaccines,” including the research of the mRNA vaccines that are being widely used in America, a claim that is true.
Vaccines do use fetal cell lines in their testing and (in the case of the Johnson & Johnson jab) production. Fetal cell lines are not the same as fetal tissue, they are lab-grown cells that are derived from abortions in the 1970s and 1980s, something that the Vatican has said is morally permissible when there are no other viable vaccine alternatives. The center of the plaintiff’s argument is that they could not in good conscience agree with vaccines that used cells derived from aborted fetuses even if they were done decades ago, which is what Justice Thomas paraphrased in the dissent.
Media outlets then proceeded to debunk the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines are made with fetal tissue, the only problem with this fact-check is that no one in the case made that claim in the first place. Neither Thomas -who only paraphrased the rationale of the plaintiffs- nor the plaintiffs themselves, who argue they object to the use of the fetal cell lines (not fetal tissue) in either production or testing of the vaccines, never argued that the companies use fetal tissue in the production of the jabs. In fact, the word fetal tissue is not used even once in their request for certiorari.
Criticizing Justice Thomas or the plaintiffs is perfectly legitimate, yet it is important to get the facts straight.