Carly Fiorina on Thursday presented herself as a champion of religious liberty by defending parents' right to choose whether to vaccinate their children.
Speaking at a town hall event in Iowa, Fiorina was asked about her views on vaccinations by a mother of five, who said her "parental rights for choice and my religious rights for choice are being challenged, and so I want to know what stance you would take to protect both life and my parental rights to make those choices."
"First of all, we must protect religious liberty and someone's ability to practice their religion. We must devote energy and resources to doing so, period," Fiorina began by saying. On vaccinations, she said, "When in doubt, it is always the parents' choice."
On Friday, former New York Gov. George Pataki blasted Fiorina, who has gained momentum in the race following her strong performance in the GOP debate last week.
"Pandering for votes isn't going to win us back the Presidency. Optional vaccinations is bad for public health & bad politics. @CarlyFiorina," Pataki tweeted
"Not sure how you run a major tech company @HP & reject accepted science that has eradicated diseases like small pox & polio @CarlyFiorina," he added
The vaccine issue has tripped up Republican candidates. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faced the question this spring, first suggesting he was for parental choice and then later clarifying
that he does not support voluntary vaccinations.
In her Iowa speech, Fiorina recalled a conversation with her older daughter, who was unsure about vaccinating her children.
"Our daughter said, 'You know, measles is one thing, but some of these vaccinations now that they're asking particularly young girls to get at age 10 and 11, I don't want to do that.' And I said, 'I don't want you to do it, either.' And she got bullied, she got bullied by a school nurse," Fiorina said.
The former Hewlett-Packard executive later said that while a parent can make the choice of whether to vaccinate for communicable diseases, school districts have the right to turn away unvaccinated children.
"When you have highly communicable diseases where we have a vaccine that's proven, like measles or mumps, then I think a parent can make that choice, but then I think the school district is well within their rights to say your child then cannot attend public school. So a parent has to make that trade-off," Fiorina said.
"I think when we're talking about some of these more esoteric immunizations, then I think absolutely a parent should have a choice and a school district shouldn't be able to say, 'Sorry, your kid can't come to school for a disease that's not communicable, not contagious, and where there really isn't any proof that (vaccinations) are necessary at this point,'" she said.
Fiorina also presented herself as anti-abortion to the Iowa crowd.
"I, too, believe life begins at conception, and I believe that science is proving us right every single day, and if you doubt my conviction, just go back and look at how I ran for the Senate in California, a deep blue state, and I ran as a proud pro-life conservative. You don't do that unless you really mean it," she said.