At a Rick Perry presidential campaign event in Iowa on Dec. 27, 2011, a pastor told the Texas governor that he saw a contradiction in Perry's abortion stance.
Pointing to a conversation he had with Perry at an October event, the Rev. Joshua Verwers of Full Faith Christian Center in Chariton, Iowa, said the governor had characterized his position as in favor of banning abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life is in danger. "But just about a week ago, you signed the Personhood USA pledge, which ... states that abortion and the innocent killing of all life should always be prohibited and that it's never acceptable," Verwers said. "So to me it seems kind of like a contradiction (from) where you were a month ago."
Perry responded by telling the pastor that he had undergone a transformation. Afterward, many news outlets reported that Perry had shifted his position on abortion rights. We decided to put that question to the PolitiFact Flip-O-Meter. Has Perry toughened his stance on abortion?
First, we checked whether Verwers had accurately characterized Perry's established position on abortion. We should note that Perry said, "Yes, sir," several times while Verwers was speaking to him at the Iowa event, including after the pastor's statement that Perry had previously expressed support for the three exceptions to any abortion ban.
In a search of news articles, we found support for Verwers' description of Perry's position going back to 1997.
A Jan. 12, 2007, Austin American-Statesman article reported that Perry, in an interview with a reporter, said he was amenable to a proposal that would trigger a state ban on abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court were to reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Perry told the reporter that he favored exceptions to the ban to save a woman's life and in cases of rape and incest.
A year earlier, when Perry was running for re-election, the Dallas Morning News published responses from the candidates to questions about abortion issues and contraception. Among the questions was: "Should abortion be legal in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the woman?" Perry's response was listed as "yes."
Jumping back nearly 10 years, a June 19, 1997, news article by the American-Statesman — reporting on the announcement that Perry, then the state agriculture commissioner, would run for lieutenant governor — said Perry told reporters that he was opposed to abortion except in cases involving rape, incest or a threat to the life of the woman.
So, has Perry's position on "exceptions" changed?
On Dec. 27, 2011, during the Iowa event, Perry told Verwers that his transformation came after watching the film Gift of Life, whose website says it "looks at the lives of individuals who were nearly the victims of an abortion," and talking with Rebecca Kiessling, a woman who was conceived during a rape. "I really started giving some thought about the issue of rape and incest," Perry said.
Later that night, Perry participated in a teleconference sponsored by Personhood USA, the group behind the pledge that Verwers mentioned in his question to Perry, and other anti-abortion organizations. Perry acknowledged that his position had changed. "This is something that is relatively new," Perry said, again citing his conversation with Kiessling. "We had a fairly lengthy and heartfelt conversation about how she was conceived in rape, and looking in her eyes, I couldn’t come up with an answer to defend the exceptions for rape and incest," Perry said.
In a phone interview, we asked Verwers how he had interpreted Perry's response to his question. Verwers said he believed that Perry was telling him that he no longer believed in any of the three exceptions he had expressed support for previously.
"My interpretation is that he is wholeheartedly in support of the Personhood USA pledge that says there is never an acceptable case for abortion," Verwers said. "I think he's truly committed to that, no matter the case, no matter the exception."
The pledge, which Perry signed Dec. 15, says: "I believe that in order to properly protect the right to life of the vulnerable among us, every human being at every stage of development must be recognized as a person possessing the right to life in federal and state laws without exception and without compromise." However, it also says this, suggesting some ambiguity when it comes to the "life of the mother" exception: "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 an unintended tragedy rather than an intentional killing."
On Dec. 28, a day after talking about his transformation with Verwers, Perry told reporters outside a restaurant in Indianola, Iowa, that he continues to support one exception to an abortion ban: in cases in which a woman's life is threatened.
"So the lone exception is now for the life of the mother?" a reporter asked. "That's correct," Perry said.
Perry has long maintained his opposition to most abortions while supporting exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when a woman's life is threatened. Now, he says he is in favor of only one exception.
That's a change in position, but it's short of a Full Flop. We'll call it a Half Flip.