Rick Perry’s Catholic problem

Perry spoke to pro-life Latinos in California Sunday.

Conservatives have been complaining for months that the current crop of presidential aspirants just isn’t that inspiring and they’ve been begging for another candidate to enter the race.

It now looks like Rick Perry is going to be that new candidate. Admittedly, the three-term governor of Texas would start with several strengths.

  • Rick Perry has established a strong pro-life record in Texas. He signed a bill allowing women the right to see an ultrasound before getting an abortion. He has strongly denounced embryonic destructive research as “turning the remains of unborn children into nothing more than raw material.”
  • As the governor of a big state, Rick Perry will be able to raise money for a presidential run very easily. In addition, it is rumored that Sarah Palin will endorse Rick Perry if he runs. This would instantly jumpstart his campaign, placing him instantly in second place, if not surpassing Mitt Romney as the frontrunner.
  • And with the election likely to hinge on jobs, Rick Perry can brag that in 2008 (when the Great Recession started) Texas was responsible for 70% of all new jobs created in America. That statistic alone could win him the White House. People fleeing California and Michigan found work in Texas’ better business climate.

However, Rick Perry has an Achilles heel that he simply must address. It’s a problem that could very well cost him not just the Catholic vote, but also the evangelical vote, too.

In a word: Gardasil.

It was developed by Merck to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most commonly transmitted sexual disease in the United States. HPV is responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of genital warts. Merck’s treatment has been hailed as a major breakthrough.

In June 2006, the FDA gave the green light to Gardasil. The drug company went on a major lobbying effort to get state legislatures to add Gardasil to their lists of state-mandated vaccines.

On Feb. 2, 2007, Gov. Rick Perry signed an executive order making Texas the first state requiring that all 6th grade girls receive the Gardasil vaccine.

Tom Bevan noted that Rick Perry’s decision set off a firestorm:

The move generated a fierce public debate. Conservatives slammed Perry for promoting what they saw as an intrusion by the state into private health decisions of parents and their children. Some also complained that the mandate would encourage promiscuity among teenagers.

Many doctors, including Bill Hinchey, the president of the Texas Medical Association at the time, questioned the wisdom of rushing to mandate a drug that had been on the market for less than a year.

So why would Culture of Life Catholics and evangelicals have a problem with this?

Unlike other public health threats like meningitis, which spreads easily between people in close quarters, the only way a teenager will get HPV is from sexual intercourse. If they abstain, they are in no real danger in getting this virus which causes cervical cancer.

Obviously Merck wants to make a lot of money by making all of our daughters get the $120 shots. And I understand that sexually transmitted diseases have become a pandemic, one that we don’t talk enough about.

But if we force every daughter to get Gardasil, we have lost hope in the ability of our children to say no to hazardous premarital sex.

In effect, the very decision to give your daughter Gardasil tells your daughter: “I know you can’t say no.” This gives her the green light. She’ll think: “After all, Mom and Dad think I’m having sex anyway.”

But having the state mandate this is even worse. You establish a culture where young girls are resigned to becoming a sex object. It’s an assault on the dignity of young women.

Thankfully, the people of Texas said no to Rick Perry. Through their elected representatives, the Texas Legislature passed a bill with lopsided veto-proof majorities. Knowing that he couldn’t stop the legislation, Perry allowed the bill to become law without his signature. That means Texas does not require young girls to get this vaccine.

But this whole controversy from four years ago will come right back to page one if Rick Perry runs for president. What will he say to conservative parents in Iowa and South Carolina?

I think Rick Perry might be the best Republican presidential candidate in 2012, but to me his campaign will have trouble getting off the ground unless he recants his decision to force young girls to get Gardasil.

There is a way that Rick Perry could address this issue. He could say something like this:

The pandemic of cervical cancer is a major health threat. Because of this groundbreaking vaccine, it is now preventable. That’s why I sprung into action and added Gardasil to the list of mandated immunizations. While recognizing the public health threat of cervical cancer, many parents in Texas did not want the vaccine added to the mandatory list. Today in Texas we rely on educational efforts to let parents know the dangers of HPV and the opportunity to prevent it. I no longer support making the vaccine mandatory and I’m convinced our educational efforts are working here in Texas.

Such an answer would respect the authority of parents and the dignity of our daughters. It’s also an answer that would allow Culture of Life Catholics and evangelicals (as well as conservatives) to support his Rick Perry’s campaign. But if he doubles down and refuses to change his mind, I think conservatives and pro-lifers will lend their support to Pawlenty, Santorum or Bachmann instead.

If Rick Perry wants to run as a Tea Party conservative who rails against excessive government control, he has got to get Gardasil right. Mandating that all 11-year-olds get vaccinated against a sexually-transmitted disease represents a statist mentality when it comes to the fundamental need to reform the role of family in culture.



  • Honorable

    Rick Perry has worn out his welcome.

  • EdW

    I don’t agree with the idea that this vaccine would give young girls license to have sex. Kids get shots all the time not knowing what they actually are for. I don’t see what is wrong with preventing a disease (no matter what it is) if you can. That being said, I think that this mandate was too early. Before it’s mandated I think it needs to be around for a while. Also, if it is mandated, it should be made extremely easy to opt out of.



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