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Michele Bachmann Defends HPV Vaccine Comments, Goes After Rick Perry (VIDEO)

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Michele Bachmann went after Rick Perry again during the GOP debate Thursday night for his 2007 executive order mandating that young girls receive the vaccine against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

She distanced herself slightly, however, from the claim that the vaccine could cause mental retardation. Host Chris Wallace pointed out to Bachmann that medical professionals believe the vaccine is very safe.

"I didn't make that claim, nor did I make that statement," Bachmann said. "Immediately after a debate a mother came up to me, and she was visibly shaken and heartbroken because of what her daughter had gone through. I only related what her story was."

She added that Perry "gave parental rights to a big drug company. That big drug company gave him campaign contributions and hired his former chief of staff to lobby him to benefit the big drug company. That's what was wrong with that picture."

Perry replied that he was lobbied on the issue -- by a 31-year-old woman who had stage four cervical cancer and supported the mandatory vaccination.

Perry repeated that he now believes it should have been an opt-in program -- instead of an opt-out one -- but he still had "erred on the side of life."

ABC News points out, however, that Perry befriended the woman he cites, Heather Burcham, after he issued the executive order.

Perry has received at least $23,500 in campaign contributions from the drugmaker Merck, which manufactures the HPV vaccine.

HuffPost's Jason Cherkis and Paul Blumenthal found that Merck wasn't the only firm to benefit from hiring an ex-Perry staffer.

Merck began a state-by-state push to get governments to adopt HPV vaccine mandates after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine for use in 2006. The company stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars if its mandate drive succeeded. They hired top lobbyists in a number of states. In Texas, Merck naturally came to Toomey.

"Absolutely Mike [Toomey] convinced [Perry] on that," Bill Miller, a founding partner of the Austin lobbying powerhouse HillCo Partners told HuffPost. The firm has done work on behalf of top-tier conservative donors, such as Houston construction mogul and swift-boat funder Bob Perry (no relation) and Koch Industries. "Maybe he personally believes in that ... Mike played an influential role. It's just the way I read it, the nature of the deal."

Amid widespread outrage over Toomey's lobbying -- and fervent opposition from religious conservatives who opposed the order on the belief that it encouraged promiscuity among young teens -- the Texas legislature repealed Perry's order in a near unanimous vote. Despite the ultimate failure to enact the vaccine mandate, Merck still retains Toomey as a lobbyist and has paid him contracts worth between $250,000 and $560,000 from 2004 through 2011.

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