Last night, for three hours, a large child in a wig and ten of his professional rivals stood bellowing at each other in front of an airplane. It was the second Republican presidential debate—a mostly miserable spectacle peppered with momentary glimmers of entertaining buffoonery. And, of course, several pointed and misleading attacks on women's essential healthcare.
The Republican Party has been lambasted in recent years for waging a so-called "war on women"—a claim they have robustly denounced while simultaneously attempting to legislate away women's right to make their own reproductive decisions. In the past few months, following the release of ten deceptively edited anti-Planned Parenthood "sting" videos by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress, GOP politicians have focused intently on defunding the reproductive health organization on both state and federal levels.
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It's no surprise that several candidates took the opportunity to condemn the organization and its supporters—after all, every single Republican in the presidential race is in favor of stripping Planned Parenthood of its funding. Last night, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Senator Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina all specifically mentioned the Center for Medical Progress videos, with varying degrees of factual inaccuracy.
It's really appalling that people who are seeking the highest office in this country would stand up and knowingly lie about what we do.
"There is not a corrections section big enough to fit everything coming out of the primary field on the GOP side, unfortunately," Eric Ferrero, the vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood, told Broadly. "It's really appalling that people who are seeking the highest office in this country would stand up and, in many cases, knowingly lie about what we do."
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Of all last night's attacks on Planned Parenthood, Fiorina's was the most extreme and by far the most egregiously untrue: "I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes," she said. "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.'"
As several analysts who, in fact, watched the videos have pointed out, this particularly gruesome scene never occurred. "There is no footage showing a live fetus in a Planned Parenthood clinic, nor does anyone say, 'We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,'" said Hannah Groch-Begley, a research fellow at Media Matters, a nonprofit news watchdog organization that "painstakingly watched every single minute of footage released" by the Center for Medical Progress. "Fiorina either misremembers or is willfully misrepresenting the videos. No one, at any point, ever discusses purposefully keeping a fetus alive for the purpose of tissue procurement."
There is no footage showing a live fetus in a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Governor Christie, too, parroted the same fallacious anti-Planned Parenthood talking points, accusing Hillary Clinton of supporting "the systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts in a way that maximizes their value for sale for profit." Similarly, Senator Cruz called the videos "horrifying" and claimed that they show "Planned Parenthood officials callously, heartlessly bartering and selling the body parts of human beings."
Senator Cruz continued, "On these videos, Planned Parenthood also essentially confesses to multiple felonies. It is a felony with ten years' jail term to sell the body parts of unborn children for profit. That's what these videos show Planned Parenthood doing."
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All of these claims were roundly debunked weeks ago. The numerous state investigations on Planned Parenthood have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing, and Planned Parenthood officials have repeatedly denied profiting off of the fetal parts. (Women who terminate pregnancies at Planned Parenthood clinics have the option of donating fetal tissue for scientific and medical research; Planned Parenthood reps maintain that they are merely compensated for costs associated with processing and transporting the tissue.)
"If there are people out there who think abortion should be banned, they should get equal air time to make their case. That's a fight we'll have and a fight we'll win," said Ferrero. "But too often you have media outlets in this country who will report two [conflicting] sets of facts as if that's balanced. There is stuff that's true and stuff that's false. What was said in last night's debate is just not true."
What was said in last night's debate is just not true.
"The GOP candidates know that they can repeat a lie over and over, and if they say it loudly and emphatically enough, someone will believe them," said Groch-Begley. "Many of these candidates have been handcrafted and promoted by Fox News, which has been launching dangerous and dishonest attacks on Planned Parenthood for years. So the candidates know they can lie about legal, safe tissue donation and the kinds of necessary health services Planned Parenthood provides, and they'll be cheered on by their conservative base."
Today, Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens sent Fiorina a letter asking her to stop making false statements about Planned Parenthood and inviting her to come visit a clinic to see the truth about the organization's true impact. "We can have an honest conversation about whether abortion should be safe and legal in this country, but you should not come at it dishonestly, with patently false statements about what Planned Parenthood does," she wrote. "The patients you will meet depend on Planned Parenthood health centers as one of their few—sometimes only—sources of affordable, compassionate, high-quality healthcare. These are the people whose health would be jeopardized if Planned Parenthood were defunded."
Every year, Planned Parenthood provides nearly 10.6 million services to women in need, including tests and treatments for STDs, prenatal services, and contraception. To many, it's a primary healthcare provider. That the Republican candidates would not understand this makes sense, as it seems possible that many of them are not overly familiar with "woman" as a category: When asked to name a historically important female American they'd want to put on the ten-dollar bill, only 45 percent could do so successfully. Sadly, the only shocking part about that is that no one suggested replacing Alexander Hamilton with a (female) fetus.