Note: This article is Part III in a three-part series exploring all aspects of Rick Perry’s record on pro-life and pro-family issues. Read Parts I and II here:
WASHINGTON, D.C., August 17, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Since announcing his candidacy earlier this month, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has displayed formidable staying power near the top of the GOP presidential pack – at least in part thanks to the support of pro-life and pro-family advocates.
But while he has been enthusiastically welcomed by many social conservatives due to his very public stance against abortion and same-sex “marriage,” others have expressed concern about some aspects of Perry’s past that they say call into question Perry’s social conservative credentials, and may even indicate a degree of hypocrisy.
Two haunting endorsements
Perhaps most damaging to Perry’s reputation as a social conservative was his 2008 decision to support GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani in a “very strong and proud way,” despite Giuliani’s well-known support for legal abortion, and liberal views on other issues.
“We spent an inordinate amount of time together over the course of the last six weeks talking about issues both on the phone and face to face ... I looked him in the eye and I asked him questions on some issues that we don’t agree on,” Perry said of the former New York mayor on Fox News on October 17, 2007.
“And, but here’s the - I don’t get tied up with the process, what I look for is results,” he continued. “Rudy Giuliani is the individual who will give us the results that will make America safer, that will move our economy forward, will put strict constructionists on the Supreme Court ... that covers a host of issues that are important to me.”
Leading pro-life conservatives at the time took a very different view. Less than three weeks earlier, on September 30, Giuliani’s frontrunning campaign had been shaken after conservative magnates vowed to support a third-party candidate should someone as pro-abortion as Giuliani win the Republican nomination.
“Giuliani is beyond the pale,” said Richard Viguerie, a leading conservative fundraiser who had met with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and former Focus on the Family leader James Dobson. “There’s no way that conservative leaders are going to support a pro-abortion candidate. It was unanimous.”
In an interview with Time magazine August 11 of this year, Perry defended endorsing Giuliani, saying he was effectively supporting a constitutional path to eliminating abortion by backing a believer in conservative jurisprudence.
“He and I were 180 degrees on social issues, but he would put strict constructionists on the Supreme Court, which dealt with those social issues,” he said. “I happen to be comfortable that I was making the right decisions and that as President, when it comes to those social issues, it’s very important to have that strict constructionist view of who you put on the Supreme Court.”
Similar concerns still dog Perry over his ties to Al Gore, for whom Perry served as Texas presidential campaign manager 23 years ago, when Gore was U.S. Senator for Tennessee, at a time when both men were Democrats.
Although much of today’s controversy surrounds Gore’s climate change beliefs, the 1988 campaign was also a sensitive turning point for Gore, who had spent much of the decade transitioning from pro-life to pro-choice talking points, on social issues.
While still opposing federal funding of abortion, by 1987 Gore had stepped away from previous statements - and an 84% pro-life voting record - supporting the unborn’s right to life, and made clear his support for legalized abortion. A New York Times article in 2000 cited critics who pegged the 1988 campaign as the moment Gore “brought his positions in line with the party’s powerful feminist and abortion rights constituent groups.”
Perry, who deserted the Democrat party in 1989, has laughed off the association - at least regarding his erstwhile friend’s flagship position on climate change.
“I certainly got religion. I think he’s gone to hell,” Perry said of Gore in 2009, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The Gardasil controversy
Also prominent in the arsenal of conservative Perry skeptics is the controversy over Governor Perry’s decision in February 2007 to issue an executive order that made Texas the first U.S. state (20 currently do so) to mandate an HPV vaccine for middle school-aged girls – an action that drew national attention. Responding to conservative backlash, state legislators overturned the order within months, and Gov. Perry withheld his veto.
At the time, Gardasil, a drug found in more recent years to cause severe side effects and even death, was the only approved vaccine for HPV – a sexually-transmitted disease.
The drug continues to be advertised as a means of preventing cervical cancer, which has been linked to HPV infection. Colleagues say Perry, whose mother and father both suffered from cancer, has often shown passion over the issue, such as in his pivotal role in creating the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
But over and against the arguments of conservatives, the Texas governor rejected any suggestion that the STD vaccine encouraged sexual activity.
“Providing the HPV vaccine doesn’t promote sexual promiscuity any more than the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use,” Perry argued days after issuing the order.
Although some say the executive order violated parents’ rights, the text of the order altered then-current protocol to allow parents to submit a “conscientious objection affidavit” as an opt-out – a provision that opponents denounced as inadequate.
Some also criticized the move as a symptom of political pandering: World Net Daily cites potential ties Perry had to the pharmaceutical giant through two former Perry chiefs of staff who worked for Merck (the pharmaceutical company behind the vaccine), and a current chief of staff whose mother-in-law worked there. Merck’s political action committee also donated $6,000 to Perry’s re-election campaign.
Politico recently reviewed FOIA-obtained emails from Perry’s office regarding the Gardasil decision. They found little defining the governor’s own stance in negotiations, but noted the matter appeared settled before the email chain began, six months before the executive order.
Although he stood firmly beside his “pro-life position” on Gardasil as late as last year, the governor has recanted his position after stepping onto the presidential stage.
“I readily stand up and say I made a mistake on that,” Perry said last Monday on an Iowa radio call-in show.
Conservatives appear torn over the apology. RedState blogger Streiff has dismissed the HPV hullaballoo as “a nothingburger”; however, National Review’s Michelle Malkin vociferously rejected the backpedaling and accused Perry of “borrowing a tried-and-true Alinskyite page from the progressive left” with “human-shield demagoguery” for his emotional anti-cancer defense of the mandate.
Hate crimes legislation
Another spot on Perry’s record noted by conservatives is his signing of a hate crimes measure, which included special protections based on sexual orientation, shortly after becoming governor in 2001.
The measure, known as the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, was named after a Texas black man killed by three white men, but also included special protections for sexual orientation, including both homosexuality and heterosexuality. George W. Bush, Perry’s predecessor as Texas governor, had refused two years earlier to support the measure based on his objection to any hate crime law, saying that all crimes are hate crimes.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner did not comment on the matter to LifeSiteNews.com.
Gary Glenn, Executive Director of American Family Association of Michigan, wrote in June that he was “disappointed” in Perry over the 2001 law, which he called “arguably the most dangerous element of homosexual activists’ political agenda.”
An unanswered question
In terms of personal pro-life beliefs, perhaps one of the most salient questions is also the most mysterious.
A quick search on Perry’s pro-life beliefs turns up a claim from OnTheIssues.org that the rural Texan native “said he believes abortion should be legal only in cases involving rape or incest or when carrying a pregnancy to term would threaten the woman’s life.” The site references an Associated Press article appearing on FoxNews.com Jun 25, 2002.
Neither the Associated Press nor Fox News have responded to LifeSiteNews.com’s requests for the article in question, and Perry’s spokesman also did not respond to inquiries. Two top pro-life leaders connected to Perry, one national and one state level, both told LifeSiteNews.com they were unaware if the claim was accurate.
However, one leader, Texas Right to Life executive director Elizabeth Graham, told LSN that Perry did not support exceptions for rape and incest.
“Governor Perry has been consistent in his position in that he opposes all abortion and he recognizes that there are very rare instances in which an abortion may be necessary to prevent the death of the mother,” said Graham.
Texas Alliance for Life founding executive director Joe Pojman, Ph.D., said a recent sonogram bill that excluded children conceived in rape or incest, as well as other exceptions, had not been influenced towards including the exceptions by the governor’s office.
Two local pro-life leaders sound off
The two state pro-life leaders LifeSiteNews.com spoke with were enthusiastic about Perry, although they conceded that the governor erred considerably at least once.
“Almost all the time he’s correct, but this time he wasn’t,” said Pojman, referring to the Giuliani endorsement.
Texas Right to Life’s Graham also said that the Giuliani endorsement was a surprise and a “departure from his typically pro-life views.” “It was just surprising because Gov. Perry has never been compromising with life,” said Graham, who says she tried to talk Perry out of what she described as a purely political move.
The leaders’ faith in Perry’s pro-life beliefs, however, appeared unshaken.
Pojman, a former aerospace engineer who has worked with Perry on pro-life issues since 1999, recalled the candidate’s rumored “serious arm twisting” in the state Senate as lieutenant governor to speed passage of a parental notification law, a legacy followed up by a record of hard work against abortion.
“This issue really is dear to his heart, he understands it and he has always made it a priority,” Pojman said. “He’s not necessarily going to put it in every speech because he knows he’s got to get elected, but ... he’s not going to run from it, because it’s just who he is.”
Peter J. Smith contributed to this report.