Rick Perry, Social Conservatives, and the HPV Vaccine
In a post at The Hill about the areas in which Texas Gov. Rick Perry deviates from the conservative mainstream, I came upon this nugget:
His most significant departure from the conservative base came in 2007, when he bypassed the Texas Legislature and signed an executive order mandating that all girls entering the sixth grade receive a vaccine that helps protect from some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.
His decision drew outrage from social conservatives, who claimed he was implicitly condoning premarital sex. It also stoked anger among conservatives of all stripes who objected to such government intervention in healthcare decisions. Dissenters quickly filed a lawsuit, and conservative anger spread from one end of Texas to the other. The state Legislature, which had always opposed the vaccine’s enforcement, quickly crafted a bill that overturned the executive order; it passed so overwhelmingly that a Perry veto wouldn’t have mattered.
And now a confession: I've always been one of those social conservatives who has felt that things like vaccinating young girls against HPV, or teaching 8th graders how to use condoms, or instructing young adolescents how to protect themselves from the risks and consequences of unprotected sex, amount to encouraging, or at the very least condoning, premarital sex. But I'm beginning to wonder if this might be a counter-productive stance to hold. In my opinion, the best case scenario is for folks to abstain from intercourse until they are wed. In actuality, however, so few young people practice abstinence these days (though, there are some encouraging signs that teens are waiting longer to have sex). In dealing with the harsh reality of the situation, is it not the role of the adults in the lives of these young people to equip them with the tools they'll need to avoid disease and unwanted pregnancy? Ideally, this task falls to parents. But again, the harsh reality is that so few parents are able to communicate about such sensitive and potentially awkward topics with their children. So is there not a case to be made for schools to set aside a small portion of the health class curriculum to discuss such matters? This is by no means a new, earth-shattering subject, but it's one on which I'm still entirely undecided.
Will Perry's advocacy of HPV vaccines affect his chances of electoral success? That's another discussion altogether, but I'd like to think that voters wouldn't write him off because of this one issue.