Perry toughens anti-abortion stance

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a campaign stop at the Glenn Miller Museum in Clarinda, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

OSCEOLA, Iowa -- In a move that cements his stature on the Republican Party's conservative wing, Texas Gov. Rick Perry confirmed to a pastor on Tuesday that he no longer supports abortion in any cases, including rape.

"You're seeing a transformation," Perry told Joshua Verwers, the pastor of the Full Faith Christian Center, at an event in nearby Chariton, Iowa. The event was part of the governor's ongoing effort to demonstrate his appeal to the Hawkeye State's Christian conservatives.

Verwers asked Perry about his signature on a pledge from the anti-abortion group Personhood USA that requires candidates to oppose abortion for any reason. Verwers said Perry told him at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition dinner in October that he did support abortion in certain cases.

What brought about the change? Perry said he was moved by a woman he met who appeared in former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's movie, "The Gift of Life," which he screened in Des Moines on Dec. 14. The woman has been conceived during a rape, and Perry said she told him, "My life has worth." He described the moment as "powerful." The next day, he signed the Personhood USA pledge.

Perry specifically said the film made him rethink the exceptions for rape and incest, though in his conversation with Verwers he did not mention the life of the mother, the traditional third exception that many who oppose abortion will allow.

The Personhood USA pledge leaves some wiggle room on the issue, saying, "I recognize that in cases where a mother's life is at risk, every effort should be made to save the baby's life as well; leaving the death of an innocent child as an unintended tragedy rather than an intentional killing." The implication is that saving a mother's life over her child might be the only acceptable case for an abortion.

Verwers was pleased with the governor's answer when he spoke to reporters after the event. What Perry said was "too perfect for it to be something that any political pundit or any type of a campaign advisor's going to be able to tell him," he said. Seeing Perry answer the question in person, he said, made him believe it was a sincere response.

Until now Perry had supported abortion in certain situations, though he is by no means soft on the issue. He advocated for a law in Texas that requires physicians to conduct a sonogram and describe the fetus to a pregnant woman seeking an abortion. It is currently facing several court challenges.

Perry reiterated his opposition to the procedure later in the evening on a tele-town hall hosted by conservative radio host Steve Deace and Personhood USA. "God was working on my heart," he said of the shift.

"My view is that life begins at conception and the end of human life should be protected until human death. And that has guided me as governor of my home state," Perry said, explaining that his position was a product of studying both the Founding Fathers and the Bible. He pledged that on his first day in office he would reinstate the so-called "Mexico City policy," which requires all non-governmental organizations that receive federal funding not to perform abortions and has been a constant point of struggle between Democrats and Republicans in the abortion debate.

Perry also echoed Newt Gingrich's dismissal of court opinions by suggesting that if legislators were to pass a law banning abortion, he would not enforce a court decision ruling the law unconstitutional. Instead, he said he would hope to pass a "human life" amendment and appoint justices to the court who are strict constructionists.

  • Rebecca Kaplan On Twitter»

    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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