Decoding Anita Perry's Abortion Rights Comments in Texas

Despite her husband Governor Rick Perry's fervent devotion to outlawing abortion in Texas, Anita Perry believes that it’s a woman’s right. At least, that’s what she seemed to believe, for a minute, before psuedo-backtracking. Now, we don’t know what to think she thinks.

A day after Planned Parenthood announced that it was suing Texas over it's abortion laws Friday, Anita Perry tackled the issue at the 2013 Texas Tribune Festival. Evan Smith, the paper's CEO, asked Mrs. Perry about the rights of a woman in Texas versus the rights of her husband’s administration, and how she was able to reconcile the two. Perry spoke at length on the topic, but if we want to figure out what exactly her position is, we’ll have to parse her words a bit. Here's what Perry said about abortion:

“That’s really difficult for me, Evan, because I see it as a woman’s right. You know, if they wanna do that, that is their decision. They have to live with that decision.”

The phrase “I see it as a woman’s right” would seem to make this an open-and-shut case. But Smith, recognizing that this could be newsworthy, asked Perry to clarify that this was indeed her belief. From that point, the dialogue got a bit muddled.

“Are you saying that abortion is a women’s right, to make that choice?,” Evan asked, getting things off to a grammatically-messy start.

“It is not mine,” Perry said. “It is not something that I would say for them.”

This is a difficult response to decipher. The phrase “it is not mine” suggests that Perry doesn’t think she herself has the right to have an abortion, but that other women might possibly have that right — an unusual position, no doubt. On the other hand, she could be using the pronoun “it” to refer to the choice to have an abortion, in which case she’s simply saying that she would never choose to have one, in which case she’s avoiding the question.

By arguing “it is not something that I would say for them,” Perry seems to be saying that she would never consider recommending an abortion to Jane Q. Texan. But that, again, that's irrelevant in a conversation about fundamental rights.

“But your personal point of view is that it’s a person’s decision within the law to make that choice?” Smith asked moments later.

“Well, I don’t really think that’s making news,” Perry replied. “I mean, I think that’s...you know, yeah, that could be a woman’s right, you know, just like it’s a man’s right if he wants to have some kind of procedure. But I’m not...I don’t agree with it, and that’s not my view.”

But what in the world does it mean to say that something “could” be a woman’s right? The whole point of rights is that you do have them, no matter what. They’re protections that are always there and can’t be taken away; that’s what makes them rights, as opposed to privileges. It could be my right to eat all of the pastries at Peet's without paying next time I step inside ... but it isn't, so why bother mentioning that, in some universe, I might theoretically have that right?

In general, Anita Perry seemed to be conflating the right to have an abortion with the decision to have one. The question is, why? Was she doing this because she’s secretly pro-choice, and wanted to avoid having to directly address the question of women’s rights in order to avoid outing herself? Or did she do this because she is genuinely pro-life, and finds it easier to speak against the decision to get an abortion than a woman’s right to get one?

Slate's Amanda Marcotte floats a third possible explanation:

Rick Perry has a reputation of being an imperious tyrant when it comes to the issue of abortion. This is the man who forced his state's legislature to endure three special sessions in order to ram through an anti-abortion bill that couldn't get passed through regular legislative means. The fact that he shares his bed and life with a woman who disagrees with him on the issue can only help to soften his image, which, regardless of how rigidly anti-abortion Rick Perry may be, is important for any politician with national aspirations.

Both George Bushes let it be known that the Mrs. is pro-choice and Eric Cantor has highlighted how awesome and tolerant he is of his pro-choice wife, too. Unsurprisingly, once the tide began to turn on the issue of gay marriage, pro-equality Republican wives started popping up, "accidentally" softening their husbands' images.

Check out the video yourself, and let us know if we’re missed anything. Meanwhile, we’re going to wait for Perry to put out a press release before speculating further on her views on abortion.

The Texas Tribune on YouTube