As Tim Pawlenty said early in the campaign, if you govern long enough, you’ll have a clunker or two on your record. The key to running for higher office is whether the candidate can acknowledge, explain, and if necessary apologize for them while maintaining credibility. Rick Perry faced that challenge in libertarian-tinged New Hampshire over a mandate he pushed to vaccinate young girls against the HPV virus, a cause of cervical cancer, a mandate that a friendly legislature overturned when Texans balked at the notion. Perry said he made a mistake, and the legislature took the right action:
His third question from the crowd was about an issue that his critics have touched on — his 2007 mandate for girls to get vaccinated against the cervical cancer-causing HPV virus.
“I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry,” he said. “I hate cancer. Let me tell you, as a son who has a mother and father who are both cancer survivors.”
Perry said he’d invested government resources in cancer cures, adding, “I hate cancer. And this HPV, we were seeing young ladies die at the early age. What we should have done was a program that frankly should have allowed them to opt in, or some type of program like that, but here’s what I learned — when you get too far out in front of the parade they will let you know. And that’s exactly what our legislature did.”
The mandate angered evangelicals and Catholics, who prefer to use abstinence as a method for avoiding STDs. The vaccine itself didn’t present any problems, presumably, but the requirement to immunize young girls against an STD did. Joshua Mercer explained the argument at Catholic Vote in June:
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.
Mercer was pleased with Perry’s statement in New Hampshire:
When a voter in New Hampshire confronted Perry on this issue, he gave a great response … Had Rick Perry not addressed this issue, Michelle Bachmann surely would have pounced on it. I’m glad the Texas Legislature overruled Perry. And I’m glad that he calls it a mistake.
Steven Ertelt at Life News notes that pro-life advocates should be pleased with Perry as a candidate regardless:
However, pro-life advocates and conservatives reacted strongly to the mandate and said the only way young girls would get the disease is if they engaged in sexual activity — prompting a call for more promotion of abstinence education, which Perry favors, instead. After the outcry, Perry allowed a bill to become law that the Texas legislature approved to backtrack on the decision, making it so young girls are no longer required to get the vaccine.
Despite the HPV vaccine controversy, Perry has compiled a stellar pro-life record and received A grades from the two top pro-life organizations in the state for signing and promoting numerous pro-life bills and working closely with their to promote life.
I’m not sure that Gardasil would have been a big deal, especially in a general election against Obama, but it’s interesting that Perry acted to defuse it immediately. It’s also interesting that he used the mea culpa strategy, admitting that he used the wrong tactics in addressing a real health issue, and for the record I agree with that assessment. HPV is a serious problem and parents should consider the vaccine carefully, but having a state mandate goes too far. For diseases communicable through respiration or normal physical contact, vaccination requirements make more sense (ie, for measles, mumps, and whooping cough), but HPV has a specific transmission path that is easily avoidable — and young women who don’t want to avoid it can get the vaccination on their own.
What do readers think? Well handled, fumbled, or no big deal in the first place? Take the poll: