The XX Factor

Rick Perry Claims To Care About “Life” but His Policies Suggest the Opposite

Rick Perry.
Rick Perry speaks during a campaign stop at Adams Street Espresso on Tuesday in Creston, Iowa

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Rick Perry managed to get a little bit more press coverage of his harsh anti-woman views this week, through the time-honored method of preening about his struggles over whether or not to show mercy to sexually active women whose pregnancies will kill them. In a grand gesture for which he no doubt deserves many cookies, he’s decided that he’ll allow the penis-touchers to live, though permanent disability remains well within the bounds of what you have coming to you for being sexually active while female. Perry claimed that he “always struggled” with the issue of abortion, and with what situations he’d graciously allow a woman control over her own body, and he has, in his latest iteration, determined that if it’s going to kill you, he’ll let you live, but not if it’s merely going to maim you for life or if you were raped. This is seen as “consistent” with a view that zygotes are people (and women aren’t), and I suppose it is. But I also think it’s mainly consistent with the widespread belief that most rape cases involve complicity on the victim’s part, and that she shouldn’t have been drinking or wearing a short skirt or working as a hotel maid with an iffy immigration status, or whatver the latest excuse is.

The reason I think this is that if Rick Perry actually cared about “life,” his policy choices in Texas would be much different. Perry has led a massive state defunding effort aimed at depriving low-income women of contraception, redirecting money from family-planning clinics to anti-choice propaganda centers that go under the euphemism “crisis pregnancy centers.” None of the redirected money went to abortion. It all went strictly toward preventing abortions by preventing unintended pregnancies. The damage has been severe. There have been mass closings of family-planning clinics, which are often the sole source of contraception coverage to many women living in those areas. Because of the widespread lack of access to contraception services, Texas has serious sexual health problems. More than one-half of births are covered by Medicaid, STD rates are skyrocketing, and Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. The high teen pregnancy rate is one of the reasons that Texas has a low high-school graduation rate, at only 61 percent of students graduating in 2010. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that Texas will see a 22 percent increase in the number of abortions because of these family-planning cuts.

None of this has anything to do with “life.” Raising the teen pregnancy rate, raising the STD transmission rate, and lowering the high-school graduation rate don’t do anything to prevent abortion. In fact, cutting family planning raises the abortion rate, sending more supposedly precious zygotes to their ends. Anyone who sincerely believed that abortion was the taking of a person’s life would put a bowl of condoms in every bathroom, get every young woman to the doctor for a full evaluation of her contraception needs paid for by the state, and encourage comprehensive sex education in every classroom. Perry has done the opposite of all these things. The only consistent principle behind defunding family planning, discouraging sex education, and restricting abortion is a desire to punish those who are sexually active. Indeed, Perry has basically admitted as much in the past, insisting that his religion’s beliefs about abstinence should be pushed on the residents of his state, whether they believe it or not. And if you live in Texas and don’t share his religious beliefs about sex, the punishments are getting more serious all the time.

I can’t help but also point out that one kind of sex runs no chance of making zygotes that could be aborted: gay sex. Surely someone all about “life” would have no ill will toward people who aren’t running the risk of eventual abortions with their sexual choices, right? Well, not Rick Perry, who really doesn’t like gay people. Again, the common thread here is hostility to sex, and not love of fetal life. 

Incidentally, the constant hand-wringing about exceptions to abortion bans that allow for saving a woman’s life is just so much political posturing to look benevolent, and has no real relationship to actual medical care. At what point is a pregnancy damaging enough to a woman’s life that a doctor will be allowed the exception? Does it have to be a 60 percent chance it will kill her? 80? Or only 100 percent? You never find out, because it’s not about actual exceptions so much as political posturing. What’s interesting is that the cases where a woman runs a 100 percent chance of dying if she doesn’t get an abortion where specifically targeted by House Republicans in early 2011, who wrote a bill that would allow emergency room doctors to kill women with neglect by refusing to complete incomplete miscarriages that ran a 100 percent chance of killing women with sepsis if nothing was done. So, when actually confronted with an opportunity to spare the lives of penis-touchers, Republicans refused to do so. Something to remember when they bleat about how magnanimous they are to allow you to live even though they can totally tell that you’ve been doing it.