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Gov. Perry Under Pressure to Rescind Cervical Cancer Vaccination Order to Protect Girls From HPV

An influential state senator and close ally of Gov. Rick Perry urged him Monday to rescind his executive order making Texas the first state to mandate vaccinations for girls against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the Senate's health and human services committee, said lawmakers should have been allowed to hear from doctors, scientists and patients before the state implemented such a sweeping mandate.

"This is not an emergency," said Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound. "It needs to be discussed and debated."

Perry ordered the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to adopt rules requiring the Merck & Co.'s new Gardasil vaccine for girls entering sixth grade as of September 2008. The vaccine protects girls against strains of the human papillomavirus that cause most cases of cervical cancer.

The Legislature has no authority to repeal Perry's executive order. Nelson said she plans to ask Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion on the legality of Perry's order.

Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said there are no plans to change course.

"The governor stands by his decision to ensure young women in Texas can receive this valuable vaccine to protect them against cervical cancer," she said.

Nelson was joined by Republican state Reps. Jim Keffer of Eastland and Dan Flynn of Canton, all of whom said their phone lines were filled with parents complaining about Perry's order Friday. They said many of their colleagues had expressed similar concerns.

Some conservatives have said they fear that the requirement that girls get the vaccine would condone premarital sex. Texas allows parents to opt out of inoculations by filing an affidavit objecting to the vaccine on religious or philosophical reasons, but critics of Perry's order say it still interferes with parental rights.

Perry also directed state health authorities to make the vaccine available free to girls 9 to 18 who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover vaccines. And, he ordered Medicaid to offer Gardasil to women ages 19 to 21.

In Maryland, Democratic Sen. Delores Kelley said last week she would withdraw her proposal to require the vaccine amid concerns there already are too many vaccine requirements for Maryland schoolchildren.