The XX Factor

What Was Up With Carly Fiorina’s Grisly Abortion Rant?

Carly Fiorina on CNN’s debate stage on Wednesday.


As with the August Fox News debate, Wednesday night’s CNN Republican debate at one point devolved into a contest to see which candidate hates Planned Parenthood the mostest. The crime: the completely disproved claim that the women’s health care provider is in the business of selling fetal body parts. Carly Fiorina, the only woman on the stage, managed to posture the hardest—while other candidates claimed they were into defunding Planned Parenthood before it was cool, Fiorina went straight for the gross-out. 

“I’d like to link these two issues, both of which are incredibly important, Iran and Planned Parenthood,” she began. “One has something to do with the defense of the security of this nation. The other has to do with the defense of the character of this nation.” 

The who with the what now? “Anyone who has watched this videotape,” Fiorina said, presumably of one of the misleadingly edited videos created by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), “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 this nation!”

“And if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us,” she ended, to great applause. 

It was quite a performance, and it opens the question of what Fiorina was inhaling before she watched those videos. There is nothing in the videos made by CMP, either in the edited or full-length versions, that has anything approaching images of legs kicking or hearts beating.* 

To be sure, Fiorina wasn’t the only person lying about Planned Parenthood on stage. The claim that Planned Parenthood sells fetal body parts was stated as fact by multiple candidates. It’s simply not true, and repeating it will not make it more true. But describing such a vivid and grisly scene that never happened—that is taking it to another level. 

Despite Fiorina’s insinuations to the contrary, many people have, in fact, watched not just CMP’s edited videosbut the entire, unedited videos, and continue to be pro-choice anyway—and not just because they missed the part with the legs kicking (which doesn’t exist!). It’s because the facts remain unchanged. Ninety-five percent of women who get abortions, when asked later about their choice, said it was the right thing to doAbortion rates are higher in countries where it is illegal, because as long as women need to terminate pregnancies, they will find a way. Fiorina’s plan to cut contraception access would likely lead to higher, not lower abortion rates. Misleading and sensationalized videos aren’t going to change any of the above.

*Clarification, Sept. 18, 2015, 1:04 p.m.: Fiorina was evidently referring to a few seconds of footage of what appears to be a stillborn fetus. The provenance of the video is unknown, there is no audio on the video, and there is no indication that the fetus was aborted.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.