Gov. Rick Perry has announced that he will announce his candidacy tomorrow in South Carolina. (In fact, he is speaking today to the Alabama GOP) In my opinion, the GOP presidential field is narrowing toward a Mitt Romney vs Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry.  (Bachmann has shown herself much superior to Sarah Palin; so Palin is a non-starter if she jumps in.) I thought that Perry could bullrush Bachmann’s campaign until I saw this. Bachmann and Perry will mostly vie for the evangelical right wing of the GOP. With that audience, Bachmann can wear him out with his Gardasil issue:

In January 2007, Gardasil was put on the “recommended” immunization schedule issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control. Merck immediately mounted a massive lobbying effort of state legislatures around the country to get Gardasil added to their respective lists of state-mandated vaccines.

But in Texas, Gov. Perry chose to bypass the legislature and on Feb. 2, 2007, he issued an executive order making Texas the first state in the country requiring all sixth-grade girls to receive the three-shot vaccination series (which cost about $120 per shot). 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.

As referenced in the that article, the potency of this issue lies in culmination of high value issues for conservative Evangelicals.

First, conservative Christian organizations vehemently opposed this mandate. For instance, the Family Research Council produced this brochure dedicated solely to HPV and Gardasil.  FRC stated:

We feel that a mandate infringes on the right of parents to make decisions regarding their children’s medical care. Since genital HPV is not spread by casual contact, there is insufficient public health justification to require vaccination for school attendance. A mandate may also lead parents to believe that the vaccine is the only available way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer and HPV infection,
which is untrue.

The American Life League was little more direct:

Gov. Perry has turned his back on the pro-life and pro-family people who elected him and is now playing into the agenda of Planned Parenthood, a group which regularly opposes parents’ rights and which praised his action as ‘a great day for women and for future generations of Texas women and families.

. . . “Gardasil is a vaccination against a sexually transmitted virus, and parents should be the ones to decide whether their young daughters should receive these shots – not Planned Parenthood, and not the governor of any state. American Life League strongly opposes such a mandatory vaccine because it completely removes parents from these important medical decisions and makes children the innocent victims.”

. . . “Planned Parenthood’s own internal documents show that the organization makes most of its income from sexually active, young, single women. Not only does Planned Parenthood stand to profit by selling these expensive HPV vaccines, but it also will profit enormously from the aftermath of the sexual promiscuity that will surely follow when young girls are led to believe they can be sexually carefree without consequence once they receive these shots.

As you can see, many Evangelicals and conservative Catholics see this as an infringement on the responsibility of parents to raise their children. Parental rights certainly include the prerogative of parents to decide when and how to discuss these sensitive issues with their daughters. Focus on the Family warned, that state officials, not parents, would become the primary sexual-health decision makers for America’s children.

Most southern evangelicals advocate abstinence as a matter of conscience and religious principle over just “safe-sex.”  Evangelicals will see this as violating those religious rights of families by subjecting their children to the HPV vaccination because it “preaches” immorality and acts as a counter to abstinence.

On top of that, in GOP circles, you can only use the terms “health-care” and “mandate” together in a sentence when you are derisively speaking of President Obama and the Democrats. Now, in relation to Perry, Bachmann will be able to add  “abstinence” and “Planned Parenthood” to the toxic mix. She might argue like something this: “Not only did Perry mandate an health-care procedure on every family and young girl, but whereas I have been the leader in the fight for abstinence and purity as the only safe-sex, Perry, by catering to the money-making interests of Planned Parenthood, tried to remove a God-designed,  natural incentive to abstain from pre-marital intercourse.” Watch for it.

In addition, his executive order appears to have been unduly influenced by corporate profits.

The controversy over Perry’s decision deepened as it came to light that his former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Merck and that his chief of staff’s mother-in-law, Rep. Dianne White Delisi, was the state director of an advocacy group bankrolled by Merck to push legislatures across the country to put forward bills mandating the Gardasil vaccine for preteen girls.

As Bachmann did to Pawlenty last night in the debate over Cap-and-Trade, she will have a real wedge issue with the southern conservatives and evangelicals more generally.

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