Zeroing in on Gov. Rick Perry's long tenure in public office, Lone Star First, an organization that's funded and supported by the Democratic Governors Association, unleashed an attack ad called "Cracks." It features a photo of Perry that splinters more with each charge the association levels against him.
"Twenty-five years as a politician changes you," a narrator says in the ad posted on YouTube Sept. 28. "You think injecting 11- and 12-year-old girls with a controversial drug, without a parent's consent, is a good idea. You think it's right to use a government takeover of Texas homes and property so foreign companies can get rich. You spend taxpayer money on a fancy mansion while Texas faces an $18 billion deficit. On the issues, 25 years as a politician has changed Rick Perry, for the worse."
We've previously touched on Perry's past advocacy of a toll-road network, his rental digs and the budget shortfall. Now we wondered about Texas girls receiving a "controversial drug" without parental consent.
On Feb. 2, 2007, Perry issued an executive order that required the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to adopt rules mandating that Texas girls entering sixth grade receive a vaccine against the human papillomavirus. Certain types of HPV, a sexually-transmitted virus, can cause cervical cancer and genital warts.
Critics said the vaccine, Merck & Co.'s Gardasil, was too new to declare safe. Some said too that Perry's order would infringe on parental rights or give girls a false sense of security, leading them to be sexually active too young.
Lawmakers blocked the plans, and earlier this year, Allison Castle, Perry's press secretary, told us that the governor's office considers the mandate "null and void." She said Perry "will not pursue it in the future." At the time, we rated Barely True Perry's statement that his executive order didn't make the vaccine mandatory.
But did Perry's move mean children would receive shots without parental consent?
Brannon Jordan, a spokesman at the Democratic Governors Association, pointed us to three news articles to back up the statement.
While the articles quoted parents expressing anger at Perry for requiring something they considered none of his business, none of the clips mention parental consent.
The mandate, which was scheduled to go into effect for the 2008-09 school year, included an opt-out "in order to protect the right of parents to be the final authority on their children's health care." It ordered the Department of State Health Services to allow parents dissenting for philosophical or religious reasons to request a conscientious objection affidavit form. That form enables parents to enroll their children in public school even if they lack state-required immunizations. It's automatically granted as long as parents provide all required information.
Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman at the Health and Human Services Commission, told us that "the child would only get the vaccination if the parent took the child to get it."
Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman at the Department of State Health Services, said: "Vaccines cannot be given to children without consent of a parent or a legal guardian."
Texas law lists two primary people who can consent the immunization of a child — the guardian and a person authorized under the law of another state or a court — and secondary people if the former are unavailable, including a grandparent, stepparent, or aunt.
Janet Realini, a physician and president of Healthy Futures of Texas, a San Antonio-based nonprofit striving to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancies, told us that the mandate would have been no different than state requirements for numerous immunizations that Texas requires children need to attend public school, such as the polio vaccine, measles and hepatitis B.
When we checked back with the DGA, spokeswoman Emily Bittner told us that she wasn't familiar with the ad. We asked to speak with someone who was, but no one had gotten back to us as we were wrapping up our research.
Where does that leave us?
Perry's executive order would have required Texas girls to receive a vaccine against HPV before entering sixth grade. The order included an opt-out for parents who objected to the vaccine.
But there's no evidence — not a scintilla of proof — that shots would have been given without parental consent, and saying so preys on the fears of parents who objected to Perry requiring the vaccine.
Parents and guardians are gatekeepers for children getting the vaccinations required for students to go to Texas schools. Perry's failed mandate would not have changed that, and the ad sounds like Perry endorsed forcing families against their will to vaccinate their children with a scary drug.
We rate Lone Star First's statement Pants on Fire.