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Though he is considered to be pro-life, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas may have some difficulty convincing pro-life voters as he enters the presidential contest.
BY Charlotte Hays
AUSTIN — When Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a GOP presidential hopeful, said in July that, if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, the issue of abortion would then bounce back to be decided by the individual states, he evoked challenges from many in the pro-life movement.
Perry based this stance on his interpretation of the 10th Amendment, which states that all powers not specifically named as belonging to the federal government are granted to the states.
"You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don't," Perry said at the time. "You can't believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn't suit you say, 'We'd rather not have states decide that.'"
Robert George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, rebutted Perry's stance in a press release from the Susan B. Anthony List. George argued that under the 14th Amendment, which forbids a state from taking a life without due process, the federal government has an obligation to protect human life.
When Perry signed the Susan B. Anthony List's presidential pro-life pledge on Aug. 23, he implicitly recognized the view of the federal government's role as stated by George.
"Governor Perry has been a longtime friend of, and leader for, the pro-life community," SBA List's president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said in a statement. "His signature on our pledge is more than welcome, and we applaud him for his commitment to continue to fight for women and unborn children."
Perry has close ties to pro-life groups in Texas. "He's been totally pro-life his entire political career," said Elizabeth Graham, executive director of Texas Right to Life. "He has the pro-life cause in his heart."
Graham said that Perry had restructured legislative committees to make it easier to pass pro-life legislation. As lieutenant governor under then-Gov. George W. Bush, in 1999, Perry worked for passage of the Parental Notification Act, considered one of the most important pieces of pro-life legislation in Texas history. It is credited with reducing the number of minors seeking abortions in Texas.
Perry has signed a number of pro-life pieces of legislation: a law prohibiting abortion in the third trimester, another ending taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, and the Prenatal Protection Act, which expanded the definition of human life to include "every stage of gestation from fertilization to birth."
Perry's judicial appointments have also won praise from the pro-life community, according to Graham. She mentioned as examples Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, a Republican and the first African-American chief justice in Texas. Another appointee is Eva Guzman, whom Perry hailed as "a strict constructionist with an unmatched work ethic" and a "principled conservative" when he named her to the state Supreme Court.
Death Penalty Supporter
On another issue, however, Perry's record is troubling to some in the pro-life movement. Perry is a supporter of the death penalty, and he has presided over no fewer than 234 executions in his 11 years as governor of Texas.
One of Perry's most controversial stands was his opposition to legislation banning the execution of people with mental disabilities in Texas. But the case that is most often cited in discussing Perry's record on capital punishment is the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted of intentionally killing his three small children through arson.
When The New Yorker magazine published a sympathetic profile of Willingham in 2009, five years after his execution, it became clear that the case would continue to raise questions about Perry. Crucial to convicting Willingham, according to the story, was the testimony of Texas investigators, who expressed no doubt that the lethal fire was arson. Willingham had made it out of the burning house, while his children died.
That judgment was challenged, however, following an investigation conducted by Gerald Hurst, a nationally recognized arson expert. Hurst said there was no way to establish that the Willingham fire was the result of arson. The Hurst report was sent to Perry with a request for a 30-day stay of execution. Perry refused to grant a stay.
For opponents of capital punishment, Willingham has become a symbol of the innocent man executed.
Critics contend that Perry had nothing to lose in granting a brief stay. However, Bernie Dobranski, dean emeritus at the Ave Maria School of Law — who stressed that he had no special familiarity with the Willingham case — said that governors usually don't grant such stays unless they find new evidence that is convincing. "Perry obviously didn't think this request rose to that level," said Dobranski.
Dudley Sharp, a longtime advocate for the death penalty, believes that "the death penalty protects innocent people" and insists that Hurst lacked forensic evidence available to the original investigators. He also argued that Hurst was unable to show definitively that the fire was not arson.
That explanation was challenged by a Texas journalist who has covered the issue.
"The evidence presented at Willingham's trial was not scientifically valid," said Dave Mann, a reporter at The Texas Observer.
Although the issue of capital punishment may affect the way voters view Perry, it would not surface if he were elected president. Same-sex "marriage" is a different matter, as the president and his Department of Justice can strongly influence policy on this deeply contentious matter.
Perry's fondness for the 10th Amendment may get him in trouble with voters who want an unconditional endorsement of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Speaking at the Aspen Institute in July, Perry was asked about the recent legalization of homosexual "marriage" in New York. After making it clear that he is "pro-traditional marriage," Perry said that New York's new stance on same-sex "marriage" was "fine with me" because "that's their call."
Later, he appeared to backtrack on this remark: He signed the National Organization for Marriage's pledge, which calls for a constitutional amendment stating that marriage is between a man and a woman, for vigorous support for the Defense of Marriage Act and the appointment of marriage-friendly judges.
"Kudos to Gov. Rick Perry for making it clear: He's a marriage champion," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. "The purpose of NOM's Marriage Pledge is to move from vague values statements to concrete actions to protect marriage. Gov. Perry joins Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum as a signer of NOM's Marriage Pledge. By doing so, Perry makes crystal clear that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, 'gay marriage' is going to be a bigger issue in 2012 than it was in 2008, because the difference between the GOP nominee and President Obama is going to be large and clear. We look forward to demonstrating that being for marriage is a winning position for a presidential candidate."
Perry may have a problem with values voters on another issue, however. In 2007, Perry bypassed the state Legislature and issued an executive order requiring that sixth-grade girls receive the Gardasil vaccine. Gardasil protects against the human papillomavirus, the cause of cervical cancer. HPV is sexually transmitted.
In Texas, many parents of teen-aged girls were up in arms at the mandate for vaccination against a disease that is spread by sexual intercourse. Generally, they don't want their daughters vaccinated because you had to be sexually active to get HPV, and they expect their daughters in sixth grade to be chaste.
Perry came under such heavy fire that he wrote a piece defending himself in USA Today.
"I will always take the side of protecting life," he wrote. Critics of his vaccination policy considered this a weak response. More recently, columnist Michelle Malkin penned a widely circulated column attacking the executive order as an example of "bad, Obama-style medicine."
Perry has tried to distance himself from the controversial executive order, admitting it was wrong to bypass the legislature. However, he didn't completely repudiate his position.
Despite the governor's high standing within the Texas right-to-life movement, he should expect Gardasil questions to dog him on the campaign trail.
Charlotte Hays writes from Washington, D.C. The series on the men and women who have announced their candidacy for the office of president of the United States can be found by searching for 'Presidential Hopefuls' at NCRegister.com.