Is Rick Perry truly Pro-Life? The director of Texas Right to Life, Elizabeth Graham, answers this question in a fascinating interview with David Barton and Rick Green. The interview was first heard on WallBuildersLive on September 5, 2011.
Host: Our guest today is going to be Elizabeth Graham. She’s with Texas Right to Life, and she’s been in this battle on the Life issue for years. She’s been there on the inside. She’s seen not only the legislators working and the, kind of, that making of sausage and the deal-making and all of those things that it takes to get things passed in a legislative body. But she’s seen the role of the governor of Texas over that time period as well, Rick Perry. And since Governor Perry is now the front-runner in the Presidential race and there are a lot of folks saying that he’s not necessarily Pro-Life and questioning his stance on the 10th Amendment and these things, we just want to analyze that and look at all of these candidates running for President and see where they really stand on these issues. And since Elizabeth has been there on the inside with Governor Perry on this issue, we thought we’d have her on and find out, kind of, the behind-the-scenes on the issue of Life, certainly coming out of Texas where some good bills have been passed, and the role of candidate for President, Governor Rick Perry, in that.
Host: With us now, our good friend Elizabeth Graham from Texas Right to Life. Good to have you, girl.
Elizabeth Graham: Great to be here. Honored.
Host: Well, thanks for all the great work that you guys do throughout the years. So many positive things have happened in Texas over the last few years, so many pro-life victories in large part because of your work, and because you’ve managed to endorse good candidates and get good people in the legislature and, frankly, in the Governor’s office, and been able to get good things passed. And so, thanks for fighting for Life.
Elizabeth Graham: Well, thanks. We do maintain a full-time presence at the capitol during the Legislative session, and not all pro-life organizations are able to do that. We really have to watch like a hawk every action, every amendment, every sentence, every idea to make sure no one rearranges words or phrases that have unintended consequences for Life.
Host: That’s a great point. It’s not just the major initiatives like the Sonogram Bill, or parental consent, that sort of thing, getting positive things done. You’ve got to constantly be watching for defenses as well, making sure that nobody slips anything in to take away some of those victories.
Elizabeth Graham: This is so true, and there are lots of folks who like to slip things in. So, our job is to cut them out.
Host: Tell me where we can send folks before we get into our main topic for the day, for your website, to support you guys financially or sign up.
Elizabeth Graham: Well, thanks, we appreciate that. Texasrightolife.com, all spelled out.
Host: Texasrighttolife.com, and we’ll have a link on our website so it's easy for people to get over there, get on the email list, make a contribution, whatever you can do to help them continue this good fight. You know, like I said, in Texas we’ve had a lot of great victories, everything from ten years ago when I was there to the parental notification bill to a few years later, parental consent. This year, huge victory with the Sonogram Bill. Why so many great victories here in Texas on the Life issue?
Elizabeth Graham: Well, the culture has changed a little bit in Texas and part of that is because Texans, by nature, are Conservative. They’re faith-oriented people, they’re family-oriented people and I think, most recently, the extreme views coming out of the White House and the weekly assault on innocent human life have really alerted a lot of people across the country, not only in Texas. And I think people are finally beginning to realize that health care is going to be rationed, there are no restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, 'I am paying out of my hard-earned money for abortion-on-demand' and Texans really are tired of that. We are a state that likes to protect innocent human life. We like to reach out and help our neighbor, especially pregnant women who feel that they only have one option. And the people who are serious about faith and family vote, and they send Pro-Life elected officials to our state legislature and also to U.S. Congress. The Texas delegation to U.S. Congress is the largest conservative delegation sent by any state. And so we're looking forward to the congressional redistricting where we're going to add four more to that number.
People say, 'What happens in Europe goes the U.S.,' well what happens in Texas actually leads the way for the rest of the United States. So our job, as people who believe in founding principles, people who believe in Biblical principles, is really to speak the truth into enacting public policy.
You know Texas Right to Life has a huge outreach program to high school and college students, and our job is really to take every opportunity to educate people about the truth and particularly the truth about Life. If you're not born, Rick, you have no other freedoms and rights.
Host: That's right. Without life you have no liberty and no pursuit of happiness, for sure. You mentioned reaching out to college students and what an important part of what you do in the next generation and training them. It's exciting to see this next generation becoming so Pro-Life. The numbers look really, really positive on this issue with these young people coming up.
Elizabeth Graham: You're right. Texas Right to Life started a scholarship program for college students called 'Generation Now' and when the young lady in our office brought that to my attention, I sort of rolled my eyes and said 'Sure, whatever. How much is it going to cost?' And this program is a fantastic investment. We started with twelve, and three years later we're up to thirty-three college students on twenty-six campuses across the state leading Texas Right to Life's effort. And these kids come to Houston for training to our headquarters during the summer and they are so impressive and I think, 'My heavens, I would never have qualified for this program back when I was seventeen, looking at the requirements.” These kids are impressive. They have already prayed outside of abortion clinics, they have already won Pro-Life debates, they have won numerous awards and accomplished lots of activities already. As they enter college, we're very excited with their accomplishments and their activity and their leadership leading Texas Right to Life on their college campuses. And then this same young lady actually asked us if we could start a high school camp and of course I said, 'Well, good luck with that.' And it turned out to be a fantastic program. It's during the summer and this was our second year and we had over forty-five high school campers on fire for the Pro-Life cause.
Host: Well it sounds like you feel the same way I do when I'm working with these young people. I'm like, wow, they're so much smarter than us. They're on the ball so much earlier than we were. They get it. They're passionate. They kind of say, 'Hey, get out the way, we're ready to go.”
Elizabeth Graham: Yeah, I know. We hope they don't catch on that they are smarter than we are, exactly.
Host: That is very, very exciting. All right, a quick break. Elizabeth Graham is our guest. TexasRightToLife.com is the website. When we come back, Elizabeth, we want to talk to you specifically about Governor Rick Perry. A lot of folks around the nation are now looking at him in the presidential race and saying, 'Hey, what did he do in Texas? We heard these comments about New York and all these other things and we want to know is he truly Pro-Life and what role did he play in a lot of that legislation that's been passed last few years here in Texas?'
Elizabeth Graham: He is truly Pro-Life. I look forward to talking about it.
Host: Well, we'll be right back in a moment on WallBuildersLive. Elizabeth Graham, our guest today, from Texas Right to Life.
Host: We're back to WallBuildersLive with Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life. She's been in the battle for a number of years. She's been on the front line of some of the greatest Pro-Life victories in the country. Texas has really led the way, and as long as we have a Supreme Court case that's keeping us from totally banning abortion, we have been able to push the envelope in gray areas. We mentioned earlier, Elizabeth, parental consent, parental notification, the sonogram bill, but also Women's Right to Know Act, defunding Planned Parenthood. You name it. If it can be done in the Pro-Life movement–almost everything that can be done–we've done here in Texas.
Elizabeth Graham: Well, I wouldn't go that far, but we have made a lot of accomplishments that other states have not been able to make.
When Governor Perry was first elected Lieutenant Governor in 1999–which is an extremely significant post for us because the Lieutenant Governor presides over the state Senate–he restructured the committees to foster Pro-Life bills getting out, and that was the first time we passed a bill in a long time, and that was the Parental Notification Bill. And he knew and understood that the bill had to be strong, and fought to make it strong. And when he was elected governor in 2003, he helped us pass the Woman's Right to Know, which is Texas' version of informed consent before abortion, because Governor Perry realizes that regardless of any surgery, that patients should be informed of the risks, of the procedures of what will happen during that surgery, after surgery, or if you don't have the surgery. And so Governor Perry was very helpful impacting informed consent before abortion.
We also passed the Prenatal Protection Act, which is the state's version of the Lacey and Connor Peterson Law, and that was a miracle, Rick, because we had all but lost that battle in the legislature because some of the medical folks didn't like that law. And then Lacey's and Connor Peterson's bodies both turned up in early May, and it was the following week when Governor Perry kicked into action and said 'We've got to pass this bill, this is horrible. There are two victims to this crime.’ So in the Texas Penal Code, an unborn child is recognized from the moment of fertilization and that was a fantastic victory.
In 2005, in the state's budget, Texas became the tenth state to fund alternatives to abortion and so we have state dollars going to maternity homes, social service agencies, pregnancy centers, and adoption agencies to counsel women on their pregnancies, and reimbursements from the state continue to these agencies up until the child is one year old. And Governor Perry was presiding then, and he was happy to sign the program. He's learned about the program, he's proud of the program. The program is innovative for Texas.
And then in 2007 and 2009, we put a lot of state funds into adult stem-cell research to hopefully try to compete and match what's happening with embryonic stem cell research. Governor Perry does recognize the Personhood of human embryos, whether those embryos are manufactured in laboratories or the old fashioned way, so to speak.
And then, of course, in 2011, which turned out to be probably the most productive, successful legislative session ever for Pro-Lifers. We did pass the Sonogram Bill, and at one point during this last session, the Sonogram Bill, it wasn't dead, but took on a shape, or took on provisions that we didn't feel were strong enough, and not for many conservative or Pro-Lifers' fault. But we were very concerned about some provisions that had to be out of it for passage, and we brought this to Governor Perry's attention and he worked very hard to close the loopholes and make a really strong Sonogram Bill pass. And so he was hands-on, very helpful.
And then, of course, the State House took $64.2 million dollars away from family planning, which is a revenue stream for the abortion industry, through eight amendments that Texas Right to Life wrote. We took $64.2 million dollars away from the abortion industry and then we added a rider that said any remaining funds have to be spent according to this priority, and of course Planned Parenthood and abortion providers are the lowest priority.
When the budget bill went to the conference committee, there were back and forth rumors and talk this and talk that and ‘Planned Parenthood does some good stuff, we shouldn't take their money away.’ This is from conservatives, Rick.
And so, again, we kicked into action and Governor Perry's office made perfectly clear to the leadership and to the budget conferees, that not one cent was to be restored to family planning in the abortion industry.
And what's great news is that there's a transition right now in the Health Department for family planning contracts and grants, and during this transition, the governor's office requested that they put into effect the priority, because the agency's having to rewrite all of their rules for a contract and grants for family planning and so there's a little bit of transition here, which is understandable, and the governor's office said, 'Well, during this transition let's go ahead and put the priority into effect.'
So we really have no complaints about Governor Perry.
In all of his judicial appointments, he has appointed strict constructionists, people who recognize that the constitution was well-written and they don't interpret or find any right to privacy in a shadow or penumbra of the constitution so we're very pleased with Governor Perry and if his accomplishments on the Life issues are any prediction of what we'll see on a national front, I think Pro-Lifers across the nation can rest easy.
Host: Well it sounds like it's not just, you know, I've seen some emails and some blogs saying lots of different things and saying, 'Well, it’s just because Texas is conservative, and he just happened to be the governor of the time.’ But he was actually on the offense, he was engaged. For the Sonogram Bill he put it on the emergency calendar, made sure it wouldn't die at the end of the session like it did the session before. I mean he pushed, he led the way, and like you're saying, even in these situations where you had transitions in the bureaucratic, you know, machine-working, he steps in those situations as well. It sounds to me like he's actually proactive Pro-Life, not just happens to be in the office when it happens.
Elizabeth Graham: You're absolutely right. And as a state legislator, you know the backroom talks and the rumors and how quickly measures die and how quickly they have new life breathed into them and how quickly they change, and so it's very important when we miss something or there's a trick pulled that was concealed or done behind the scenes, that we have someone at the top who we could say, 'Could you please stop this, could you please fix this, could you slow the process down?'
In the special session, Senate Bill 7, some language was added about fetal abnormalities and the state paying for abortion for children with fetal abnormalities. Well, we completely flipped out. In the special session time, it's so abbreviated that people didn't want to stop, people being members, conservative members, didn't want to stop and fix this loophole. And Governor Perry's office called us and said, 'What's the problem?' and we said ‘This bill says the state's going to pay for the abortion of babies with fetal abnormalities. This has got to be fixed,’ and they called in the stakeholders and sat through three hours of negotiations to close this loophole. His top aides were in the meeting and I don't think anyone in the room was pleased at the delay and that we have problems that this provision came up, but everyone in the room was pleased that we finished it, and the bill passed, and the loophole on children with fetal abnormalities was closed.
The bill was a health care reorganization bill, so people wanted this bill to pass because it had millions and millions of dollars in health care savings, but this provision was slipped in about fetal abnormalities, and so we had to beg for time and Governor Perry was very cooperative in letting us close that loophole.
Host: Elizabeth, that sounds like leadership to me. I mean, that sounds like someone who doesn't just sit back, they step forward and, you know, there's been times when I wanted him to lead on some issues and they just weren't the main issues for him that day, you know, so we can all complain about someone who's been in office as long as he has but man, when you look at the big picture, this guy has led more on Life than anybody I can think of.
Elizabeth Graham: He has, Rick, and you know we do our part. We try to run all the traps and try to stop the bad stuff and do as much as we can, or so he doesn't have to stop and remove obstacles or that he doesn't have to call legislators in, but sometimes we need help from the top.
I can tell you that in 2005, probably 2003, I think it was 2005, a very powerful chairman in the State House had filed a bill that would allow for embryonic stem cell research, and of course that legislator thought otherwise because that legislator didn't recognize the Personhood of the embryo. So we said, 'Governor Perry, this is a powerful chairman. No one in the House wants to stop this bill because of politics and retribution. We can't stop the bill,’ and he called that legislator and said ‘If your bill moves, I'm going to veto every one of your other bills.’
Host: Oh, I love it.
Elizabeth Graham: Oh, it was really fun. And, of course, we weren't in the room when he did that, but the report, within two hours he had called that legislator in and said, ‘I don't want this on the floor. If it comes to the floor it will be bloodied, and it's going to be worse for you because I'm going to veto all your bills.’
He had been a hands-on governor for life when we've need him and even when there hasn't been a crisis, he's been more than willing to speak at Pro-Life events around the state for Texas Right to Life, for the pregnancy centers, you name it. Rick, he really has a long list of Pro-Life accomplishments.
Host: Well, you mentioned it and I didn't seize on it like I should have. But one of the most important things, you pointed out the judicial appointments and if he were to win president, that's where he will have more impact than probably anywhere else. What a great track record of appointing strict constructionists here in Texas so you don't have to guess what kind of judicial view he has.
Elizabeth Graham: That's correct. He understands that with all the measures he's passed that have to do with the court system. He understands that you have to have a good judiciary–that the legacy of any leader will appoint people who will define and implement the policies long after the leader is gone. And look at the Texas Supreme Court, look at the appellate courts even the courts in Harris County and the people he's been able to appoint in other places have all been strict constructionists.
I remember interviewing a group of candidates who wanted this one particular seat and they were all, I mean, it was so hard to pick, because they were all Pro-Life, they were all conservative, they all understood conservative judicial philosophy.
And I thought, ‘Wow, I wish we had more openings in Harris County because all five of these people should go.’ But these were the people who had made it to Governor Perry's short-list. So he's on the ball, to say the least, with judicial appointments and understands that activist judges can do irreparable damage to our freedom, our constitution, and to Life.
Host: Well, Elizabeth Graham, we appreciate getting the inside scoop from you about Texas. I noticed you didn't laugh whenever I mumbled over how many years you've been on the front lines. I was expecting at least that, you know, a little chuckle there.
Elizabeth Graham: [laughs]
Host: God bless you for all your work.