Rick Perry
Rick Perry has been campaigning hard in Iowa, trying to convince social conservatives that he is their man. Reuters

Rick Perry, who said last month that he supported abortion in cases of rape or incest, told an Iowa pastor on Tuesday that he had undergone a transformation and that he now opposed abortion without exceptions.

Joshua Verwers, a pastor at Full Faith Christian Center in Chariton, Iowa, challenged Perry at a town-hall meeting in Osceola to explain why he had gone from supporting exceptions to signing a Personhood USA pledge that binds candidates to oppose abortion without exception and without compromise.

Perry responded that his views on abortion had changed after watching a film called The Gift of Life, which was produced by Citizens United and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. The film features first-person stories from people who were almost aborted for a variety of reasons, including rape and incest.

I really started giving some thought about the issue of rape and incest. There are some powerful, powerful stories in that DVD, Perry said. But the defining moment, he said, actually came before he watched the film, when the lady who was in the DVD was looking me in the eye and saying, 'You really need to think this through.' She said, 'I am the product of rape.' And she said, 'My life has worth.' It was a powerful moment.

Verwers said he was satisfied with Perry's response.

When he said that, I do believe it was a sincere answer and that he has converted his position, he told reporters after the event. That answer was too perfect for any political pundit, any type of a campaign adviser ... to be able to tell him.

Perry's positions on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage are central to his chances in Iowa, where socially conservative voters tend to dominate the Republican caucuses. He is competing mainly with Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum for those voters' support, and both Bachmann and Santorum oppose abortion with no exceptions. They, too, have signed the Personhood USA pledge.

With 12 percent support in the RealClearPolitics.com Iowa poll average, Perry holds a small lead over Bachmann (9 percent) and Santorum (7.7 percent). He has almost managed to overtake Gingrich (14.3 percent), and he could very well do so, as Gingrich's poll numbers have fallen precipitously in the past two weeks.

Perry remains far behind Ron Paul (22.7 percent) and Mitt Romney (21 percent), but if he can overtake Gingrich for third place, it would be a major upset and a big morale-booster for his campaign and his supporters.

At this point it's an expectations game, Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University in New York, told the International Business Times last week. Candidates that beat their expectations substantially could still benefit from that performance in caucuses and primaries even if they fail to be one of the top winners.

Perry has struggled to regain traction in the race after a series of gaffes early on, but he could get some last-minute support from voters who consider him the only evangelical, socially conservative candidate who could beat Barack Obama in the general election.

He really, early on, seemed to squander that opportunity to be the evangelicals' candidate of choice, Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said of Perry last week. He is trying hard to re-establish that. At the end of the day, he's probably the only nationally plausible evangelical candidate, so he would be the one it would make sense for them to unite behind, but he's got a lot to overcome from those negative perceptions generated by his first two months in the race.

The video of Perry's comments can be found here.