When Texas’s 82nd legislature convened in January, the state was facing what the Houston Chronicle called a “sickening shortfall” of between $15 billion and $27 billion. Yet fiscal issues were notably absent from Gov. Rick Perry’s list of “emergency” items that lawmakers had to fast track. Instead, he decreed that the state needed to prioritize legislation mandating sonograms for women seeking abortions. “When you consider the magnitude of that decision, ensuring someone understands what is truly at stake seems to be a small step, in my opinion,” he told the 2011 Texas Rally for Life. “Those of us here know that when someone has all the information, the right choice will be made, the choice of life.”
The resulting legislation, which was supposed to go into effect on Sept. 1, was among the most invasive in the country. Before carrying out an abortion, the law requires a doctor to perform an ultrasound on his or her patient, and to display the resulting images while giving her a detailed description of the embryo or fetus’s development, whether or not she wants to hear it. If a heartbeat can be detected, the doctor has to make it audible, irrespective of the patient’s wishes. First-trimester ultrasounds are typically performed vaginally, with a phallic-shaped wand. Forcing this procedure on an unwilling woman is a particularly intimate type of government intrusion.
On Tuesday, however, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks, a George H.W. Bush nominee, issued an injunction temporarily blocking the law, pending a court case. “The Act compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen,” wrote Sparks. So for now, women seeking abortions and the doctors who provide them will be spared this gratuitous dose of state interference, though Texas has already appealed the ruling. Whichever way it goes, though, the law is significant for what it tells us about Perry’s attitudes toward women and reproductive choice.
It’s not surprising, of course, that a Republican governor of Texas would be anti-abortion. The 2012 presidential candidate’s fervor, however, has been exceptional, far surpassing that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In contrast to Bush’s soft, coded language urging promotion of a “culture of life,” Perry’s condemnation of abortion is clear and unequivocal. He doesn’t even pretend to respect women’s autonomy—rather, as he said at the Rally for Life, he believes that the government must dissuade women from making “the biggest mistake of their life.”
As The Texas Tribune reported, “In the nearly 11 years since Perry became governor, he has thrown his support behind at least six high-profile anti-abortion bills, including measures to require a 24-hour waiting period…[and] to make minors get permission from their parents before seeking an abortion.” In the last session, he slashed reproductive health-care funding for poor women by two-thirds; as the Dallas Observer reported on Wednesday, six Planned Parenthood clinics and nine independent family planning providers will be losing their state funding starting this week.
Should he become president, Perry has signaled that he will create a more uniformly anti-abortion administration than any Republican in history. Last week, he joined Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann in signing the Susan B. Anthony List’s Pro-Life pledge, which commits him, among other things, to restricting his Cabinet appointments to people who share his opposition to abortion, something neither Bush nor Ronald Reagan ever did.
Perry’s language on abortion has been consistently militant. At the Rally for Life, he noted that nearly 40 years had passed since the “tragedy” of Roe v. Wade, saying, “It’s pretty hard to imagine people of good conscience sitting idly by through this, and in Texas, we haven’t!” In 2008, he commended the Texas Alliance for Life for helping to bring the state’s law in line with God’s: “Romans 13:1 tells us that everyone must submit himself to the governing authority, for there is no authority except that for which God has established. I commend Texas Alliance for Life for not only submitting to governing authorities with humility, but also working hard to change the laws so that they better reflect God’s character instead of man’s.”