In the spring of 1999, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini approached then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry on the chamber floor, wielding a green vote tally card. Zaffirini, a Catholic, antiabortion Democrat from Laredo, had taken a count, she told Perry, and the Senate was just a couple of votes away from passing a bill requiring parental consent for a minor to have an abortion.
With a little persuasion, she told Perry, he could get those votes. Instead, Perry continued working to pass a less stringent measure, Zaffirini says, one that required parents be notified before a minor terminated a pregnancy — but not grant their permission.
“I interpreted it as a lack of commitment, a lack of understanding,” said Zaffirini, a nearly 25-year veteran of the state Senate. “Really, a lack of interest.”
It’s likely the last time anyone felt that way about Perry and his opposition to abortion.
In the nearly 11 years since Perry became governor, he has thrown his support behind at least six high-profile antiabortion bills, including measures to require a 24-hour waiting period and — six years after Zaffirini did her vote-counting — to make minors get permission from their parents before seeking an abortion.
On Tuesday, Perry's efforts hit a significant obstacle when a federal judge granted a temporary injunction against major provisions of the state's new abortion sonogram law, saying it violated the free speech rights of women and their doctors.
“Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy," Perry said in a statement, calling the ruling "a great disappointment to all Texans who stand in defense of life."
Over the years, Perry's public opposition to abortion has grown ever-more emphatic, coinciding with runs for re-election in an increasingly red Texas, and now for the 2012 GOP nomination for the presidency, where he faces candidates with similarly forceful antiabortion views.
National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said the governor's position on abortion couldn't be any more in line with her organization’s tenets. “Gov. Perry has a wonderful pro-life record,” she said.
“In Rick Perry’s Texas, politics trumps sound science,” said Ted Miller, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America. “The end result [of his tenure] is more political interference and less freedom and privacy for women in his state.”
Perry is no Johnny-come-lately to the antiabortion movement, and his general ethos hasn’t changed: He opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. "The governor has always been pro-life and has a strong pro-life record," his spokesman Mark Miner said.
But Perry's position on abortion didn’t come into play in his early years in elective office. It was a non-issue in his race for agriculture commissioner and, later, in his race for lieutenant governor, where his opponent, Democrat (and Roman Catholic) John Sharp, also opposed abortion.
In 1999, during Perry’s single term as lieutenant governor, with then-Gov. George W. Bush honing his conservative credentials in preparation for a presidential run, the two presided over the overwhelming passage of the bill requiring parents to be notified before their minor child could have the procedure. While it did not go as far as Zaffirini had hoped, it was the most significant abortion legislation state lawmakers had passed in two decades.
“I think our whole message needs to be, whether you are a pro-choice or pro-life individual, we’ve got too many abortions in Texas,” Perry said at the time.
By 2002, in his successful re-election bid against Democrat Tony Sanchez, Perry had stepped up his rhetoric on the campaign trail, calling human life “a sacred gift from our creator” that should be preserved at all costs. In the 2003 legislative session, with a newly empowered Republican majority in the House, Perry pushed for several new antiabortion initiatives.
He signed the Women’s Right To Know Act, an abortion counseling law that, among other things, requires doctors to tell women there are alternatives to abortion, and provide them with material warning the procedure might increase their risk for breast cancer. And he signed a bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could terminate a pregnancy.
The following session, in 2005, he successfully pushed for legislation requiring written parental consent before a minor could get an abortion. Perry, preparing for his 2006 re-election bid, signed the bill into law in a church school, and his campaign invited thousands of his “pro-family Christian friends” to attend. After a significant public outcry, his campaign decided not to film the event for a television commercial.