LOS ANGELES — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, accused the Obama administration on Sunday of transforming abortion into a U.S. export and breaking faith with the nation's founding principles by supporting taxpayer-funded embryonic stem cell research.
The conservative Republican has long been at odds with President Barack Obama's stand on reproductive rights and stem cell research, but his remarks at an anti-abortion rally amounted to a political introduction to a mostly Hispanic crowd of about 5,000 at a downtown arena.
The governor had dismissed talk that he would seek the GOP nomination next year, but he re-ignited speculation about two weeks ago with an off-the-cuff remark: "I'm going to think about it." Since then, two of Perry's former top political advisers fled Newt Gingrich's troubled presidential campaign, while Perry scheduled trips to Los Angeles, New York and New Orleans that could raise his national profile.
In Los Angeles, Perry never mentioned the presidential election, and he avoided a gaggle of reporters and TV crews seeking interviews. His office said the stop was planned long ago.
"This is not a political event," said spokesman Mark Miner.
Perry was greeted warmly by the crowd, and left to a standing ovation.
"Every life is precious," Perry said, as his remarks were repeated by a translator in Spanish. He said the direction of stem cell research under the Obama administration was "turning the remains of unborn children into nothing more than raw material."
A 1996 law prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars in work that harms an embryo, so private money has been used to cull batches of the cells. Those batches can reproduce in lab dishes indefinitely, and the Obama administration issued rules permitting taxpayer dollars to be used in work on them through the National Institutes of Health.
The administration's rules expanded the number of stem cell lines created with private money that federally funded scientists could research, up from the 21 that President George W. Bush had allowed to 91 and counting. To qualify, parents who donate the original embryo must be told of other options, such as donating to an infertile woman.
The Obama administration is ignoring "the overriding responsibility of every government – that is to protect citizens at every stage of their lives, especially those who cannot protect themselves," Perry said.
Perry also faulted Obama for reversing the so-called "Mexico City policy" that banned giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information about abortions. Obama struck down the policy during his first week in office, saying it was too broad and undermined family planning in developing countries.
Under Obama "our federal tax dollars can now be used to fund abortion all over the world. With the stroke of a pen, abortion essentially became a U.S. foreign export," Perry said.
Polls have found many GOP voters are unimpressed with the party's emerging 2012 field, which includes former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Perry, 61, is a prominent voice in the Christian conservative wing of the GOP, but Texas is facing a budget shortfall estimated to be as large as $27 billion.
California Assemblyman Dan Logue, a Republican, has been urging Perry to enter the race and is behind a draft-Perry website. "We like to see him do what he's doing for Texas for the country," Logue said.
Several people in the crowd said they were mostly unaware of Perry but were willing to consider his candidacy, especially given his outspoken opposition to abortion.
"I look for any leader who has strong moral fiber," said Ricardo Brambila, 37, a paper company sales manager from Orange. A Democrat, Brambila said he's uncomfortable with Obama's direction on abortion and stem cells.
Perry is pushing tougher immigration laws in Texas. Brambila said he supports a secure border "but you can't step on people's rights once they are here."
Jose Rodas, 42, who manufactures signs in Los Angeles, said he knew only that Perry opposed abortion. "He has good principles," he added.