As expected, Rick Perry’s 2007 decision to mandate the Gardasil vaccine for all Texas sixth grade girls was a hot topic at last night’s GOP Tea Party debate. As expected, Perry was dinged, and rightly so, for the overreach in government authority. And he repeated that he now knows it was a mistake and he ought to have done things differently.
But in this case, it isn’t the most important issue to me, and it doesn’t scuttle Perry’s chance of being my candidate.
I appreciate my old friend Joshua Mercer’s criticism of the decision. It was a bad move and an egregious overreach of the state’s authority. It was an intrusion into the natural rights of parents vis-a-vis their children. He should not have done it.
But I do respect Perry’s stated reason, that he truly was doing it in an effort to reduce the instances of cervical cancer in his state, which has one of the highest rates in the country. He repeated that motivation last night, and I believe him. But that does not justify the overreach of government power.
I must say, though, I don’t buy the argument that the vaccine is a tacit message to girls to go have promiscuous sex. When an 11-year old gets a vaccine she likely has no idea what it’s for, just trusting her parents and the doctors that it’s important, as she did with all the previous vaccinations. It’s not as though the parents or doctors handed the girl a condom or IUD or bought her birth control pills. Fact is, Gardasil doesn’t protect against HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, or even every strain of HPV, so there remain a goodly number of biological deterrents to promiscuity that the girl will understand. And then there’s also good parenting to promote chastity—but that’s not fool proof, so why not include an extra vaccine in the regimen of vaccines children get *just to be on the safe side*?
The error, of course, was making the vaccine mandatory with an opt-out rather than completely voluntary with heavy subsidies and a strong public awareness campaign. Make the vaccine available at a greatly reduced rate, perhaps free for some. Make people aware of what it is for and why it might be a good idea, and then let them decide. That would have been the more prudent course of action, but it was not the one he signed into policy. His folly was in mandating the vaccine rather than highly encouraging it. Happily, his folly was overturned by the legislature with veto-proof majorities, so he let it become law without a signature.
Besides, if we’re talking about GOP presidential candidates involved in rather awful policies at the state level as governor, don’t forget that Ronald Reagan, a staunch pro-lifer as president, signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act into law as governor of California. Past policy decisions do not necessarily signal future actions.
And given his overall conservatism and instincts for federalism, I do not see the Gardasil episode as an indication of Perry faking conservatism. I see a long-serving executive of the nation’s second-largest state, who presided over impressive economic growth in spite of acute national decline, who is otherwise quite conservative on most issues. And compared to the field, that looks mighty good.
Frankly, the things that *do* concern me about Perry, and why I’m not in the tank for him yet, are his immigration stance and his support of Rudy Giuliani in 2008. We shall see what happens with those positions in the upcoming weeks and months.