Rick Perry took a step to shore up his pro-life credentials and draw a clear contrast between himself and his toughest opponent in the Republican presidential primary.  Perry has signed the pro-life pledge from the Susan B. Anthony List, promising to nominate originalist judges to the federal bench, appoint pro-life Cabinet members, and pursue pro-life policies as President.  Mitt Romney has thus far refused to sign:

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who entered the GOP presidential race less than two weeks ago, is the latest Republican presidential candidate to sign a pro-life pledge put forward by the Susan B. Anthony List on abortion and judges.

The pledge has the candidates promising to support only judicial nominees who won’t interpret the Constitution in a way that supports Roe v. Wade, select pro-life Cabinet members on positions affecting abortion policy, supporting legislation to stop taxpayer funding of abortions and Planned Parenthood, and to support a fetal pain bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“I not only pledge to protect unborn life, but have a record of doing so in Texas,” Perry said in signing the pledge. “I have signed legislation requiring parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion, and have long advocated adoption as an alternative to abortion in order to protect unborn children.”

Most of the Republican hopefuls signed the pledge earlier in the campaign.  However, Romney balked, as has Herman Cain (who has flatly refused to sign pledges at all), Gary Johnson, and Jon Huntsman.  Romney objects to the third clause, which defunds all entities that perform or fund abortions, claiming that the policy would harm hospitals and would have “unintended consequences.”  The current legislation proposed in Congress on which this clause is based does not defund hospitals, however.  Romney has emphasized his pro-life positions in this campaign, most notably in his own pro-life pledge at National Review.

Perry has a good pro-life record in Texas, but needed to address the issue for two other reasons.  His EO imposing a Gardasil vaccination mandate put him at odds with Catholic and evangelical conservatives, although his apology in Iowa last week (for the mandate part of the issue, anyway) has been mostly well received by the same voters and activists.  Perry also supported Rudy Giuliani in the 2007-8 presidential primary, whose pro-choice position caused many to question Perry’s commitment to pro-life policy.  Getting this out of the way early allows him to defuse that issue and put himself to Romney’s right on abortion, if perhaps only slightly.

If the race shapes up to be a two-man contest between Perry and Romney, Perry will want to flank Romney on the Right and paint him as a northeastern Rockefeller Republican.  Signing the pledge helps him make that argument and repairs some ties among social conservatives without necessarily alienating independents, who mostly presume that the GOP will nominate a pro-life candidate in each election.