Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) got off on the wrong foot in the Wendy Davis abortion fight by violating the first rule for all male politicians: Never take issue with a woman’s personal life story. There is some irresistible urge that seems to bedevil some sincere pro-life advocates (e.g. Richard Mourdock), causing them to make precisely the wrong argument at the wrong time.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Moreover, for Wendy Davis to accuse Perry of making political hay over the abortion issue is rich. She’s gone from unknown state legislator to feminist icon in a few days. As for her charge of “bullying,” it was actually the pro-choice people in the gallery that tried to disrupt the legislature last week.

But all that said, Perry on Monday got back on track, saying on the Bill Bennett radio show:

 We saw this [Kermit] Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia and the horrors that went on there, sticking the scissors in the backs, baby’s backs to end their lives. We saw that same type of action in a clinic in Houston Texas. . . . That’s what this is really about, Bill, and I think you’re seeing the awakening of a sleeping giant in this country to protect babies and to make sure that those who do make that decision to have an abortion are going to be in clinics that are going to be safe and sanitary.

As Perry learned, Republicans make a grave error when they stray from the substance of these bills to criticize women pols, activists and pundits. The latter suddenly become frail and oh so sensitive when a male pol personalizes matters. The solution: Don’t do it.

On the substance, Perry is in tune with his voters and the country at large in opposing late-term abortion. That view is a rare point of agreement in the abortion argument. That is why, perhaps, Davis doesn’t use the word “abortion” but instead refers to “women’s choices” or “women’s health” or “women’s rights.” Like many pro-choice advocates, her goal is to make this a unilateral decision by the woman rather than a balance between the rights of the child and the woman. Only then does the “war on women” make sense. (Are pro-abortion forces waging a war on babies?)

As for the specific health regulations (e.g. maintaining surgical center standards) it is hard to argue on one hand that pro-lifers are endangering women’s health while simultaneously objecting to stricter health regulations. At some point, however, regulations that are not medically reasonable and whose sole purpose is to make abortions (early or late term) near-impossible to obtain are going to run into legal problems.

It is hardly unreasonable, however, for every state to look at their own regulations in the wake of Kermit Gosnell and determine what is appropriate. Somewhere on the spectrum between Gosnell’s house of horrors and driving all facilities out of business is a set of sound regulations that are medically sufficient. Determining what those are seems to be precisely the sort of task legislatures are equipped to perform, just as they promulgate a host of other health regulations.

The lesson, for pro-life advocates who didn’t yet learn this from the 2012 elections, is threefold: Be respectful; don’t tell us what God thinks; and focus on the humanity of the child and the health of the women. If they can do that, they will generally stay out of trouble.