On her biggest stage yet, Fiorina deserves applause for forcefully raising Planned Parenthood’s treatment of the unborn and the associated political avoidance practiced by many in both parties. Nevertheless, Fiorina’s details were in fact a bit off, and her sympathizers (a group I readily put myself into) do her and the broader cause of life and truth no favors by ignoring that fact.
Let’s start with what Fiorina actually said:
I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes, watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation. And if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.
Fiorina is right to call on Clinton and Obama to watch the tapes, but the exact scene she describes does not exist. She is likely jumbling the facts of a Center for Medical Progress video entitled “Human Capital: Episode 3” that centers on the powerful testimony of Holly O’Donnell, a former employee of StemExpress. O’Donnell describes an incident with a “fully intact fetus” at a Planned Parenthood clinic in California. First, O’Donnell’s training supervisor called her over to look at something “kinda cool, kinda neat.” Staring at “the most gestated fetus and closest thing to a baby that I have seen,” a “flabbergasted” O’Donnell watched as the woman tapped the child’s chest “and its heart starts beating.” O’Donnell did not know whether this was “technically dead or alive.”
Here is how O’Donnell describes the rest of what she saw:
It had a face. It wasn’t completely torn up. And its nose was very pronounced. It had eyelids and its mouth was pronounced. And then since the fetus was so, so intact, she said, “OK, well this is a really good fetus and it looks like we can procure a lot from it. We are going to procure brain.”
The CMP video intersperses her words with images of a small barely alive baby slowly moving in a metal pan. To be clear, these images are not undercover video of the same newborn boy that O’Donnell is describing, nor are they presented as such. The footage is labeled “Courtesy of Grantham Collection & Center for Bio-Ethics Reform” in large lettering. It was apparently inserted to dramatize O’Donnell’s words the same way that a war documentary might include stock footage of bombing runs while a pilot tells hold own personal but unfilmed story. Fiorina seems to have misunderstood the significance of these images.
Fiorina’s next assertion that “someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain” is a bit harder to explain. Put simply, there is no quotation like this on the tape, though O’Donnell’s account does suggest that the procurement occurred not long after the newborn’s heart was shown to be beating.
In a narrow sense, the critics are correct, but a narrow sense is not what most of the critics are after. Planned Parenthood Action Fund flat out called Fiorina a liar and said, “The video footage that she claims exists—and that she ‘dared’ people to watch—does not exist.” Ezra Klein of Vox declared, “Nothing like that happens in the Planned Parenthood tapes.” Klein was relying on another Vox writer, Sarah Kliff, who claims to have watched all the tapes and has thus become the authority figure for most left-leaning media members who, like undergrads faced with a book that is of no interest to them, would rather rely on Kliff’s notes. The now oft-repeated go-to line from her is that “either Fiorina hasn’t watched the Planned Parenthood videos or she is knowingly misrepresenting the footage.” That’s an overstatement. Other options exist—like watching the videos and later honestly but inaccurately describing the footage. Fiorina was wrong on some details of the videos. She would be wise to acknowledge that and move on rather than denying she ever misspoke. But unlike many in the media, she saw the big picture rather clearly.
John Murdock is an attorney who writes from Texas. His online home is johnmurdock.org.