Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Abortion apologists' attack on Carly Fiorina is beside the point

The latest line from abortion apologists is that Carly Fiorina got it wrong about Planned Parenthood during Wednesday's debate by referring to the undercover videos made by an anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress:

"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.

"This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up in and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us."

This has been described as "pure fiction." The truth isn't that simple.

The image Fiorina described can be found starting at the 5:57 mark of the following video. (WARNING: This content is graphic, and some viewers may find it very disturbing.)

There are two things going on here, as viewers ought to be able to discern.

Earlier in the video starting at the 4:00 mark, Holly O'Donnell, who used to work as a "procurement technician" for bioscience firm Stem Express, begins describing a scene she once witnessed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Jose, Calif.:

"I hear her calling, 'Hey Holly, come over here, I want you to see something kind of cool. It's kind of neat.' So I'm over here and, the moment I see it, I'm just flabbergasted. This is the most gestated fetus and closest thing to a baby I've seen. And she's, 'OK I want to show you something.' And she has one of her instruments, and she just taps the heart and it starts beating. And I'm sitting here, and I'm looking at this fetus, and its heart is beating. And I don't know what to think."

After some other clips, the video returns to O'Donnell:

"She's like, Do you know why that's happening? I knew why it was happening: It's because an electrical current -- the nodes were still firing. And I don't know what that constitutes. It's technically dead, or it's alive? ... It wasn't completely torn up. And its nose was pretty pronounced. It had eyelids. And its mouth was pronounced. And then, since the fetus was so intact, she said, OK well this is a really good fetus, and it looks like we can procure a lot from it. We're gonna procure the brain. So the moment I hear that, I'm like, that means we're gonna have to cut the head open."

O'Donnell goes on to describe what she had to do to "procure the brain," but it was toward the end of that second clip that the image Fiorina described appears for nine seconds.

As Fiorina's critics themselves point out, this image is marked differently than the rest of the footage: In the bottom-right corner it prominently says "Courtesy of Grantham Collection and Center for Bio Ethical Reform." (Make up your minds, abortion apologists: Either the video is deceptive or it's clearly marked.)

In other words, it is clear the image is intended to show what a fetus like the one O'Donnell described would look like. It obviously isn't the same fetus, because if there was footage of the actual incident she described, the viewer would see that instead of seeing O'Donnell describe it some time later.

So, in the absence of that actual footage, the filmmakers show what the fetus would have looked like. Why? Probably because we aren't used to seeing such images, and we don't like to think about what the body of an aborted child about to have its organs harvested looks like. So, is it intended for shock value? Damn right it is. But anyone who thinks about it at all understands what is going on.

Now, abortion apologists have said some pretty awful things about O'Donnell -- the most vile of which were eventually retracted -- but I have yet to find anyone who disputes that she saw what she described. Rather, they want to talk about whether anyone has been arrested, whether evidence of criminality has been found, and whether the image in the video was the exact child O'Donnell was talking about, not an accurate depiction of what that child would have looked like. When Fiorina's critics claim she was telling a "pure fiction" or something that "did not happen," they are spinning a technicality in a way not borne out by the facts.

As I said from the beginning , the question of criminality is only one aspect here. There's also the issue of human decency, as well as whether taxpayers who object fiercely to such actions should have to subsidize them.

It is to those issues that Fiorina was speaking. Could she have phrased her comment slightly different? Sure, she could have said the videos show "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone talks about being forced to harvest the brain from a child just like it." That would have been completely accurate and substantively the same. But would the abortion apologists have found something else to criticize instead? Damn right they would have.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.