Rick Perry Seems a Little Confused About Women's Health Care

Rick Perry Seems a Little Confused About Women's Health Care

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry is one of four Republican presidential candidates who spoke at the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans last Friday, along with Dr. Ben Carson, former Senator Rick Santorum, and Senator Marco Rubio. And, in true Rick Perry fashion, his comments were a bit awkward.

While talking about health care in Texas, Perry painted himself as a champion of expanded access to health care. Of course, he was one of the 19 governors who refused to accept the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in his state, effectively depriving more than a million Texans of access to affordable health care.

This was only made worse by his pledge to improve health-care access to the less fortunate, the very people who would have benefited from that Medicaid expansion. “That’s what we ought to be working on … that the least of us are taken care of.”

Beyond this contradiction, though, there’s also the fact that if the “least of us” is a pregnant woman who wants an abortion, Perry really, really doesn’t want her to be “taken care of.” In July 2013, Texas’s state legislature passed and Perry signed H.B. 2, an anti-abortion bill designed to shut down almost all of the state’s then-42 abortion providers. As of now, only 19 clinics are still open in the state, leaving many Texas women—disproportionately those who are poor and of color—hundreds of miles away from the nearest clinic.

It’s not that Perry tried to hide this history—he’s proud of it. He told the crowd at the anti-abortion event that he was the candidate of abortion opponents everywhere: “No candidate has done more to protect life for the unborn than I have. That’s a fact.”

But Perry’s comments on reproductive health went beyond simply lauding his anti-abortion credentials. He actually tried to paint himself and his state as advocates for women’s health care. “If you are a pregnant female,” he told the audience, “from El Paso to Brownsville, in 2001, you had to leave that county to get prenatal health care. Today, you can get that kind of health care in the state of Texas,” he said, implying that as governor, he vastly increased women’s access to prenatal care in the state of Texas.

Of course, the reality is that in 2011, Perry’s administration supported the legislature’s choice to slash family-planning funding and remove “abortion-affiliated providers” from state programs, a move that shut down 76 facilities, most of which provided prenatal care. Most of the 23 abortion providers who have shut down as a result of H.B. 2 also offered prenatal care and other women’s health-care services. So when Perry mentions an increase in access to prenatal care, we’re left wondering what he would say to the women who lost their preferred (or only) source of prenatal care, simply because that source also performed abortions.

Or what he would say to the Texas women seeking abortions who now have to leave not just the county, but the state, to exercise their constitutionally protected right to the medical procedure. What Rick Perry misses and refuses to accept is that, simply put, abortion services are health care, and by drastically limiting access to services, he and his state are anything but advocates for women’s health.