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Texas bill reversing HPV order now law

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–Texas Gov. Rick Perry May 8 scolded the legislature for passing a bill overturning his controversial HPV vaccination order but said he would avoid a meaningless veto fight and allow it to become law.

The new law reverses a February order by Perry that would have required girls entering the sixth grade to receive a vaccination of Gardasil that drug manufacturer Merck & Co, along with some studies, says protects females again most of the strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of the cases of cervical cancer.

But because HPV is spread solely through sexual contact, Perry’s order was controversial — particularly among parents who teach their daughters abstinence. Legislators also were upset Perry bypassed them in the process.

The Texas House and Senate easily passed bills by veto-proof margins overturning Perry’s order. The new law puts a four-year moratorium on state officials ordering usage of the vaccine.

“[T]hey have sent me a bill that will ensure three-quarters of our young women will be susceptible to a virus that not only kills hundreds each year, but causes great discomfort and harm to thousands more,” Perry, flanked by women who have either HPV or cervical cancer, said at a press conference. “Instead of vaccinating close to 95 percent of our young women, and virtually eliminating the spread of the most common STD in America, they have relegated the lives of our young women to social Darwinism, where only those who can afford it or those who know about the virtues of it will get access to the HPV vaccine.”

The political battle featured a rare fight between the Republican governor and the Republican-led legislature. It also forced Christian conservative leaders — who normally work with Perry — to oppose him. Perry’s order did allow parents to opt their children out of the program, but conservatives said that wasn’t enough.

Kelly Shackelford, president of the Texas-based Free Market Foundation, said his organization opposed Perry’s order for three reasons:

— It didn’t allow parents to make the initial decision.

“The idea is that parents should make that call, and they should be given the best information they can with their doctor,” Shackelford told Baptist Press. “It shouldn’t be the government making decisions for my 11-year-old girl.”

— The vaccine hasn’t been tested long enough, Shackelford said, and essentially would have made young girls “guinea pigs.”

The Texas Physicians Resource Council, a statewide coalition of several hundred Christian doctors and dentists, issued a February statement opposing Perry’s order on the grounds that the vaccine is “too new, and the long-term safety and duration of its effectiveness is unknown.” A booster shot, the organization said, may be necessary.

“There are eight more vaccines against various HPV strains currently in development,” the doctors council said. “We do not know if Gardasil will turn out to be the most efficacious or the safest.”

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine seems to support the claims by Shackelford and others. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the study said that although the vaccine is effective against HPV, it, in the words of the Times, “reduced the incidence of cancer precursors by only 17 percent overall.” George F. Sawaya and Karen Smith-Carter of the University of California-San Francisco said the benefits of the vaccine were “modest” and that there were many unanswered questions, the Times said.

— The order prevented the public discussion that would have taken place in the legislative process.

“This was not the way you do things,” Shackelford said. “You don’t dictate something this big that’s affecting parental rights and children through an executive order where there can be no open discussion, no legislative process.”

Even though Shackelford opposed Perry vigorously, he believes the governor’s heart was in the right place.

“I’ve tried to give the governor the benefit of the doubt the whole time,” Shackelford said. “… I take people at their word, and I think he really is trying to save lives. He has a good intention. But sometimes when people have good intentions, they can do the wrong thing…. That doesn’t mean you steamroll parents in the process.”

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  • Michael Foust