By Rori Black
In February of this year, Texas Governor Rick Perry surprised his conservative base by signing an order requiring all preteen girls be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer. On May 8th, he backed down from his position
The vaccine, Gardasil, targets four of the HPV types believed to cause more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts; it was also shown to be 100 percent effective against two of the most common HPV strains. More than 300,000 women worldwide die each year from cervical cancer. Prevalence of HPV in American women varies from 20 to 45% depending on age.
Social conservatives oppose the use of the vaccine, saying that it will lead to sexual promiscuity and tramples on parental rights, even though the order allowed for students to opt-out. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family stated, “[I]n a normal classroom setting, no child will contract or transmit HPV. It can be prevented, for the most part, by abstinence until marriage.” The Family Research Council has explained, â€œGiving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.â€
The backlash was swift. Last month, the Republican-majority Texas Legislature passed a bill contravening the order, blocking the program for at least four years. Then, last Friday, the unidentified parents of three Texas girls sued Perry for overstepping his authority and illegally requiring the vaccine for preteens. On May 8th, Perry, who has close ties to the religious right, backed down, saying he would not veto the bill. He did, however, issue a scathing statement to the legislature.
“They have sent me a bill that will ensure three-quarters of our young women will be susceptible to a virus that not only kills hundreds each year, but causes great discomfort and harm to thousands more,”
Research on Perry’s decision making quickly shows that he may be answering to two masters. Perry’s former chief of staff is now a lobbyist for Merck, the vaccine’s manufacturer; and his current chief of staff and other aides reportedly met to discuss the state’s immunization program, including the HPV vaccine order, on the same day in 2006 that Merck donated $5,000 to the governor’s reelection campaign.
Regardless of Perry’s true motives, his statement condemning the legislature, was spot-on. Unfortunately, conservatives who still believe in “abstinence only”, over the reality of human sexuality, would rather condemn young women to death that give them the facts and tools to guard against cancer.