Now, if there were a vaccine that would protect your child from a kind of cancer that kills thousands of people every year, chances are, you would make sure your child gets it.
But the next story we're bringing out in the open is not that simple, because it involves sex, parents' rights, and women's health. The governor of Texas has just signed an order to require girls in sixth grade to get the vaccine for HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer. And 18 other states are considering doing the same thing.
Ed Lavandera has story tonight from Dallas.
JULIANNE JACOBS, STUDENT: You should do it before you're sexually active.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Julianne Jacobs is ahead of the class, one of the first young girls in Texas to receive a vaccine against the human papillomavirus. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.
The federal government says, the recently approved vaccine can prevent most types of cervical cancer. Julianne's parents have told her it's not a free pass to start having sex.
JACOBS: And, because, you know, that vaccine doesn't guarantee -- guarantee safety. It can still -- you can still get past it, and you could get that disease, even if you have the vaccination.
LAVANDERA: But, when Texas Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order, making it mandatory starting in September of 2008 for sixth-grade girls to receive the vaccine, many parents were angry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government should let parents make their own decisions for things like this.
LAVANDERA: Dawn Richardson is lobbying Texas lawmakers against making the vaccine mandatory, and also has a daughter of her own.
DAWN RICHARDSON, LOBBYIST AND PARENT: There's no proof that this vaccine is going to affect the rates of cervical cancer, because the vaccine is being administered to 11-year-old girls. It's only been tested for four years.
LAVANDERA: The FDA says, the vaccine is safe and effective, requiring three shots over a six-month period. But some critics worry that making the vaccine mandatory will promote premarital sex, instead of abstinence.
PETER SPRIGG, VICE PRESIDENT FOR POLICY, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: We feel it's very important that people not be told that this is a vaccine that will make it safe to have sex.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Governor Perry is a staunch conservative. And he says this idea protects life and promotes women's health. And he says parents will ultimately be allowed to decide whether or not their daughters get this vaccine. They can apply to opt out of if they object to it for religious or moral reasons.
(voice-over): The Republican governor is receiving support from unlikely places, Planned Parenthood and even many Democrats, who see this strictly as a public health issue.
ZAHN: There are 10,000 cases of cervical cancel -- cancer, that is, every year, 4,000 deaths.
Out in the open tonight: the controversy over requiring sixth- grade girls to get the HPV vaccine to prevent the sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer.
Texas has just started requiring the shots -- 18 other states also considering it.
Let's go back to tonight's "Out in the Open," panel, Clarence Page, with his mike on -- yes -- Tara Wall [RNC mouthpiece], Rachel Maddow.
ZAHN: So, Clarence, should this be mandatory...
PAGE: I think...
ZAHN: ... and made mandatory by state government?
PAGE: You know, what troubles me is making it mandatory before the public is adequately educated, because I saw what happened with Roe vs. Wade, which I personally support as a decision.
But I saw the backlash, which we're still feeling politically across the country, because it was imposed on the country. This is a very personal thing. Whenever government gets into something as personal as, say, 12-year-olds, like -- like, my 12-year-old niece, mandating that she has got to get a shot that many people think is connected to sexual promiscuity -- I don't think it is.
PAGE: But so many people think that, we obviously need a lot of public educating out there. So, it troubles me to do it do it too quickly.
ZAHN: But, even with public education...
ZAHN: ... there is a strong view that you're promoting promiscuity. There are people think, since this vaccine has been around only for four years, that it really won't convincingly reduce rates of cervical cancer. So, what difference is it going to make if there's a time lag before you make it mandatory?
MADDOW: It's -- well, here's the thing.
If we were talking about a vaccine for any other kind of cancer, as a person in your previous segment described, we would be singing hallelujah right now. But the fact that this is a disease that is spread by sexual contact, human papillomavirus, which leads to cervical cancer, all of a sudden, we get hysterical and lose the ability to think reasonably about this.
MADDOW: Once you bring up sex, we lose all public health rationality about this.
And, so, I think that, really, what you need to consider is whether or not this going to be treated as a public health and safety issue, or whether this is going to be another thing about which we have a hysterical sex conversation involving teenagers, because we can't -- we have that debate.
ZAHN: But you know it will be a little bit of both of them.
WALL: Listen -- listen, you talk not having the buy-in, and the public not having the buy-in of the legislature. The governor did this on his won [sic].
The governor, whom I respect -- and, actually, he's my governor. I voted for him. But he's wrong.
ZAHN: He's a conservative governor. He is your governor.
WALL: He is. He has been a very good conservative governor.
But he's wrong on this issue. As my mother says, a person can be sincere, but they can be sincerely wrong.
MADDOW: How can a vaccine for cancer be wrong?
WALL: There's -- there's no -- there's no -- there was no parental -- you're usurping parental rights. You're usurping the legislature.
WALL: Make it an opt-in, as opposed to an opt-out. There is an opt-out provision, of course.
WALL: But why not make it an opt-in, as opposed to an opt-out.
MADDOW: Would you do that for measles? Would you do that for rubella? Would you do that for polio? Would you do that for...
WALL: This has to do with a very sensitive...
MADDOW: With sex.
WALL: Absolutely -- issue...
WALL: ... that is a family issue, that parents need to discuss with their children amongst themselves, and not to have the government impose upon them.
MADDOW: How has that been working so far?
WALL: That's not for the government to decide.
ZAHN: If you want to see how it's working so far, I want you all to look at the screen right now...
ZAHN: ... because this is a staggering statistic.
This is the incidence of HPV hitting young kids in this 14- to 19-year-old age group. We know that about a third of kids that are 13 to 16 are sexually active.
So, do you think parents have their heads in the sand?
PAGE: Well, of course, yes. Parents do have their head in the sands about sex and drugs. We know that.
But there's also the question about, do parents who want to take responsibility for their kids, should they be entitled to have opt-out or opt-in choices? I think that is really what at issue here.
PAGE: You talk about rubella and several other contagious diseases which you can catch without having sex, I mean, there's a reason to want to control a contagion that travels in the air, and -- and to mandate that.
MADDOW: But look at that figure.
PAGE: When you're talking about something that is more personal -- well, look at the figures...
MADDOW: This is -- it's endemic.
MADDOW: If you're a teenager having sex, basically, you're going to get HPV.
PAGE: Just to play devil's advocate, which I'm very good at...
WALL: But what if you're not having sex?
WALL: What if you're not having sex?
WALL: There are plenty of teenagers out there who -- who -- who have had discussion with their parents who choose to remain abstinent or virgins until they're married, until... (CROSSTALK)
ZAHN: But you know what the manufacturers...
ZAHN: Hang on one second. The manufacturers of the vaccine say, that's a good thing...
ZAHN: ... because they said that the vaccine is more effective when you're inoculated before you start having sex.
WALL: Well, the other factor is -- and my mother is a nurse as well. And some of the issues that are being raised is how new this is. It hasn't been tested and tried. It needs to be given some time.
The other portion, again, opt-in, not make an opt-out. Let parents decide. This is the government assuming parents don't know what's best for their children. I think that's a little bit elitist.