It doesn't matter what Anita Perry says

The Texas first lady has a more nuanced view of choice than her husband -- but she's not the governor

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
October 1, 2013 12:00AM (UTC)
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Rick Perry, Anita Perry (Reuters/Eric Thayer)

Anita Perry is married to one of the most tenacious opponents of reproductive choice in America. Her husband, Texas governor Rick Perry, has opposed abortion "without exception and without compromise" including cases of rape and incest. He has repeatedly, vociferously fought to undermine not just not just women's freedom of choice but their basic rights to healthcare. Yet as she revealed this weekend, Anita Perry is not dogmatic as her ferociously passionate spouse. But does it change anything?

In an interview at the Texas Tribune Festival and published in the Texas Tribune Saturday, Mrs. Perry declared herself "a strong Texas woman," and said that she believed the current restrictions were not part of a "war on women… but protecting women." But she also responded to the question of whether the governor and his administration "got it right" on abortion by replying candidly, "Well, that’s really difficult for me, because I see it as a woman’s right. If they want to do that, that is their decision. They have to live with that decision." When pressed, she stuck to what she said, making sure there was no ambiguity about choice. "It is not mine," she said. "It is not something that I would say for them…. I don’t really think that’s making news. I mean, I think that yeah, that could be a woman’s right. Just like it’s a man’s right if he wants to have some kind of procedure. I don't agree with it and that's not my view but… there are two sides to every nickel." And for the kicker, she demurred when asked whether the law of the state "respects right rights of individuals to make those individual choices" by simply affirming, "If that's the law of the state." 


The news that Mrs. Perry, a woman who worked for seventeen years as a nurse, might have a more expansive, nuanced and tolerance view of women's health and their choices than her tree stump of a husband was met with much surprise. Jezebel called it an "accident" "that she’ll probably regret for the next few days" and New York boggled that she "seemed to go a little off message." And Inquisitr, faced with Mrs. Perry's clear and direct statement of her statement that abortion could be a woman's right, announced that "Rick Perry’s wife may disagree with him on abortion laws."

Even when faced with the explicit information straight from a grown woman's mouth, it appears there are many who cannot fathom that the wife of Rick Perry could have a different worldview that that of Rick Perry. But  as Nina Burleigh pointed out two years ago in Salon, Mrs. Perry has consistently proven herself less awful than her spouse – springing from a church that focused on "helping the poor and needy and helping those who have nothing have something in these hard financial times," and working for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. TAASA, by the way, "contends that the option of safe and legal abortions is essential for rape and incest victims."  Mrs. Perry has even apparently been able to be an example to her spouse – one year after Perry tried to cut $2.4 million in state domestic violence prevention programs, he signed into law a tax on adult oriented businesses that has so far raised $85 million for abused women and children.

The world of political families is generally presented as shiny and harmonious and ideologically in agreement. But Mrs. Perry is hardly the only wife in America whose views are not 100% in alignment with those of her husband. It may be surprising that she articulated them – so surprising that it defies the credulity of certain members of the public and press -- but it should hardly register as a massive shock to anyone who's ever been married and managed to maintain some degree of intellectual autonomy. You're not inevitably fused to your mate's brain – which is an especially good thing if you're married to Rick Perry.


The most important takeaway from Mrs. Perry's remarks isn't that she made them; it isn't that she, unlike her husband, seems able to exist in a world with people who make different moral choices. It's that it doesn't matter. Rick Perry's steely determination to wipe out women's reproductive freedom in his state is well documented. And here's a reminder: he's the governor; she isn't. His wife's personal opinion is just his wife's personal opinion. And like the views of many, many other citizens of Texas, it changes nothing for the women of his state.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Abortion Anita Perry Rick Perry Texas War On Women Women's Health