In his first week in the campaign Texas Gov. Rick Perry moved swiftly to push aside a liability: his implementation of a mandatory HPV vaccination program for school-age girls. He deemed it a “mistake.” That was a necessary bit of housecleaning to reassure social conservatives who consider this “mandate” as undermining parental control. Libertarians likewise were pleased to hear that Perry regretted his imperious use of an executive order, later overturned by the state legislature, to implement the measure.

It was therefore a surprise when he defended the measure:

But here’s the facts of that issue. There was an opt-out in that piece of — it wasn’t legislation. It was an executive order.

I hate cancer. We passed a $3 billion cancer initiative that same legislative session of which we’re trying to find over the next 10 years cures to cancers. Cervical cancer is caused by HPV. We wanted to bring that to the attention of these thousands of — of — of — tens of thousands of young people in our state. We allowed for an opt-out.

I don’t know what’s more strong for parental rights than having that opt-out. There’s a long list of diseases that cost our state and cost our country. It was on that list.

Now, did we handle it right? Should we have talked to the legislature first before we did it? Probably so. But at the end of the day, I will always err on the side of saving lives.

It wasn’t an unreasonable answer, but it sure didn’t sound like he thought this was a “mistake.”

Mainstream media pundits and even many conservative bloggers didn’t seem to notice. But Penny Nance, head of the 500,000-member Concerned Women for America, sure did. She told me this morning that she thought Perry had previously admitted his HPV vaccination order was a mistake. She had a message for Perry: “I wish he had kept that posture. People are ready and willing to forgive a mistake, but don't appreciate denial. I agree that his heart was in the right place, but that doesn’t change the reality that the policy was government intrusion on the parent/child relationship. I look forward to further clarification.”

Perhaps Perry, in the heat of the battle, let ego get in the way of smart politics. In any event, he’ll need to reclarify his position and hope his generally strong record on social issues is enough to get him a pass from social conservatives.