Although Rick Perry said at a debate on Thursday that he was “lobbied” by a 31-year-old woman suffering from cervical cancer to require young girls to receive the HPV vaccine, he did not meet the cancer patient until after he had already issued his executive order mandating the vaccine.
It was a rhetorical high point for Perry at the debate in Florida, when he put a personal face on the story and pointed to his friendship with a woman who later died of cervical cancer.
“I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31 year old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer,” said Perry. “I spent a lot of time with her. She came by my office She talked to me about this program. I readily admitted we should have had an opt-in but I don’t know what part of opt out most parents don’t get and the fact is I erred on the side of life and I will always err on the side of life as a governor as a president of the United States.”
The woman Rick Perry mentioned in the Republican debate Thursday was Heather Burcham, a thirty one year old woman dying from cervical cancer. But what Perry left out in his answer was that he met her after he issued his executive order.
Perry issued the executive order requiring sixth grade girls receive the HPV vaccine in early February of 2007, and he met Burcham while she was lobbying the Texas legislature to uphold the governor’s executive order. The legislature ultimately ruled against Burcham and Perry and did away with the vaccine mandate.
As first reported by KTRK’s Ted Oberg, the pair struck up a friendship despite the Texas legislature revoking the governor’s mandate. Perry invited Burcham to a ranch, rode motorcycles with her and even sat at her bed during her final days. Burcham died in July 2007.
Perry has often referred to Burcham on the campaign trail, saying recently he sat at the bedside of a dying woman with cervical cancer.
The Texas governor spoke at her memorial service in July 2007, saying it was a missed opportunity for the Texas legislature to not uphold his executive order.
“Though some could not see the benefits of the HPV vaccine through the prism of politics, some day they will,” Perry said in July 2007. “Someday they will recognize that this could happen to anyone’s daughter, even their own. Someday they will respond with compassion when they once responded with ignorance. And, someday, they will come to a place where they recognize the paramount issue is whether we will choose life, and protect life, without regard to what mistakes, if any, have been made in the past.”
Perry has endured a lot of criticism from fellow Republicans on the issue, particularly Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who have argued the government should not force parents to inoculate their children against what is essentially a sexually transmitted disease, even if it cuts down on instances of cervical cancer.