Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina forced the debate about Planned Parenthood into the public square with her impassioned plea during Friday's Republican debate for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to watch the 10 undercover videos alleging the nation's largest abortion provider illegally sells aborted fetal tissue and organs.
There is just one problem: the scene Fiorina cited in the debate is only described to viewers, not actually shown in the videos. There is indeed graphic images of both an aborted and a miscarried infant like the one Fiorina describes, but neither are the specific infant in question.
During the debate, Fiorina says:
"As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, 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.
It's an impassioned moment that helped rocket her to “winning” the debate but criticism came immediately. After being challenged by reports that the footage she is referring to doesn't exist, Fiorina doubled down on her statement Thursday during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
"No, I didn’t misspeak and I don’t know who you’re speaking about in terms of watching the tapes but I have seen those images.
“I don’t know whether you’ve watched the tapes, George. Most people haven’t. Certainly none of the Democrats who are still defending Planned Parenthood have watched those tapes, Planned Parenthood needs to be (defunded). This kind of butchery erodes at the character of our nation.”
The footage Fiorina is most likely referring to is the video below, part of the Center for Medical Progress' “Human Capital” documentary series featuring whistleblower Holly O'Donnell, someone who used to work inside Planned Parenthood clinics extracting tissue and organs from abortions for a partner organization called Stem Express.
The scene Fiorina describes begins at 4 minutes, but is best viewed with the entire footage for context.
Beginning at 4 minutes, O'Donnell says in one instance she is called over by one of her superiors to look at an aborted fetus. O'Donnell says that her superior taps the fetus' heart, which begins beating at the touch. O'Donnell says she is then told to slice open the fetus' head so they can “procure” the brain.
Contrary to the way Fiorina describes it, O'Donnell does not say that her superiors purposefully “keep it alive to harvest its brain.” Dialogue implying that statement is not present.
In the video, a doctor does confirm that a heart is sometimes still beating after an abortion, verifying what O'Donnell claims she saw is possible. O'Donnell describes this experience as the moment she knew she needed to leave Stem Express. O'Donnell says:
“I don't know if that constitutes it's technically dead or it's alive.”
At 5:57 in the video, footage of an infant kicking its leg is featured. Supporters of Fiorina say this is the very footage the Republican presidential candidate is referring to. But O'Donnell is clear that the experience she describes happened before she became involved with the Center for Medical Progress.
In the footage itself, over the clip of the kicking infant, the Center for Medical Progress stamps the image with this statement: “Courtesy of Grantham Collection & Center for Bio-Ethical Reform”. The Grantham Collection and Center is a pro-life organization that collects and documents visual evidence of abortions — photos and videos of aborted children; photos of instruments used in abortions; and videos of entire abortion procedures.
The executive director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Gregg Cunningham, confirmed to Independent Journal that the footage of this infant is indeed from their collection and “depicts and intact delivery abortion”:
"We are currently in the process of retrieving the original video from which the clip used by the Center for Medical Progress was taken. We will send you the link to the original video once we post it.
In a second email, Cunningham told Independent Journal:
"We conditioned CMP's use of our footage only on their willingness to clearly (label) it as stock footage. They fully complied.
“By our lights, Ms. Fiorina, as a person of conscience, is to be excused for being so shocked by the horror of the imagery that she missed the caveat.”
This infant, then, is indeed left to die after an abortion, but it is not the infant O'Donnell says she procured brain from.
At about 9 minutes in the video, there is a second infant. The Center for Medical Progress clearly states in the “description” section of the YouTube video (the description is not visible when the video is embedded in other websites) that the infant is an:
“Image of Walter Fretz, born prematurely at 19 weeks.”
The Center for Medical Progress links to this January 2014 story about Walter Fretz's mother deciding to take photographs of her and her family hugging the boy before they had to let him go. In June 2013, Lexi Fretz also wrote about the experience on her personal blog.
Overall, these are the important takeaways:
- O'Donnell's claim about procuring brain from an aborted infant whose heart is still beating cannot be independently verified at this point;
- The first graphic image of an infant in the video is an aborted child, and does indeed kick, like the infant O'Donnell described, but it is not the exact child O'Donnell procured brain from;
- The second image of an infant is not an aborted infant, it is Walter Fretz.
For the complete story and all the details of the Planned Parenthood debate, check out Independent Journal's comprehensive explainer. We update that guide as new information comes to light.
Editor's Note: This story has been revised after publication.