By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON--Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry's new opposition to abortion in almost any situation may appease conservatives in Iowa, but it moved his views further from those of a sexual abuse organization supported by his wife, Anita.
During an emotional appearance this week while campaigning for the January 3 Iowa caucuses that kick off the presidential nominating process, the Texas governor said he had undergone a "transformation" in his views toward abortion.
At a town hall meeting in Osceola, Iowa, Perry, an evangelical Christian who has made his faith a centerpiece of his White House bid, was asked by a local pastor about abortion.
Perry, who previously had opposed abortion except in cases of rape or incest, said he had a change of heart after watching a movie made by 2008 Iowa Republican caucus winner Mike Huckabee called "The Gift of Life."
"I really started giving some thought about the issue of rape and incest," Perry said.
He said one of the moments that changed his mind was while talking to Rebecca Kissling, a woman shown in the movie.
"She said to me, 'I am the product of rape,' and she said, 'My life is worthy.' It was a powerful moment," Perry said, his voice breaking slightly as the crowd applauded.
Perry's new view contrasts with that of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), which supports abortion rights.
Perry's wife, Anita, is a long-time fund-raiser for the group, which has received federal and state funding.
Anita Perry, a nurse by training, was hired in 2003 to use her fund-raising skill at TAASA, where in a single year she tripled donations.
TAASA says Anita Perry sticks to fund-raising and generally avoids policy discussions. A lobbyist for the association has said that Anita Perry is not involved in any policy issues.
Annette Burrhus-Clay, director of TAASA, said she was aware of Rick Perry's change of heart regarding abortion. Burrhus-Clay would not comment on how it might affect Anita Perry's views or her work with the association.
"Anita Perry is still a fund-raiser for TAASA," Burrhus-Clay said in an email to Reuters. "TAASA's position remains unchanged. We still contend that the option of safe and legal abortions is essential for rape and incest victims."
Perry's spokesman Ray Sullivan said both Anita and Rick Perry have always opposed abortion. Sullivan would not say whether Anita Perry shared her husband's new opposition to abortion in cases involving incest or rape.
"Like most Americans, they would rather not see any babies aborted," Sullivan told Reuters in an email. "Both Perrys believe families should have the option (of abortion) when a woman's life is in danger."
Less than a week before the Iowa caucuses, Perry is battling several other Republican candidates to win religious conservative voters in Iowa.
Most of the Republican candidates, including Perry, have signed the Personhood USA pledge, which says: "Abortion and the intentional killing of an innocent human being are always wrong and should be prohibited."
(Editing by David Lindsey)
Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.