For me, the only moment of genuine passion and conviction in the entire GOP debate came when Carly Fiorina linked the Iran issue (“the defense of the security of this nation”) with abortion (“the defense of the character of this nation”) Here is what she said:
Fiorina has been excoriated in the media for this statement, not least because the debate was the most-watched event for CNN. Planned Parenthood has been in damage-control mode over the ongoing release of undercover videos documenting the sale / donation1 of human organs procured during abortions. This kind of coverage does not help make their federal funding any safer.
This pro-Fiorina article from First Things (Fiorina Was Right) gives a good rundown of some of the criticism Fiorina has faced, for example, straight from Planned Parenthood:
The images show nothing like what Carly Fiorina said they do, and they have nothing to do with Planned Parenthood. The video footage that she claims exists—and that she ‘dared’ people to watch—does not exist. We have a word for that: It’s a lie.
Glenn Stanton, writing the First Things piece, argues that the video is real and provides the YouTube link with time stamps to see exactly what Fiorina is referring to. I don’t like watching these kinds of videos, but I did for the sake of understanding. The video produced by the Center for Medical Progress shows exactly what Fiorina describes. However, the video of the unborn human being with a beating heart and twitching leg is clearly not footage from the undercover sting operation. So what’s going on? Here’s MSNBC:
What does exist is a video interview of a former employee of StemExpress, a tissue procurement agency like the fictitious group represented by the anti-abortion activists behind the video. In it, she claims she saw a fetus with a heartbeat, and says her supervisor planned to procure the fetus’s brain for medical research. The video also includes unrelated stock footage of a fetus outside the womb that purports to be from an abortion… No one in the videos has even alleged that a fetus was kept alive to harvest a brain, nor is there footage of it.2
So here’s what happened: the Center for Medical Progress (which has been releasing the undercover videos) used stock footage from another pro-life group called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform during this segment of the video. They cut back and forth between an interview with a former “Procurement Technician” from Stem Express, LLC3 describing the incident that made her quit her job and stock footage. The footage is clearly labeled, as this image (cropped to avoid any disturbing imagery) shows:
This isn’t dishonest on the part of CMP. They were interviewing a woman about what she was asked to do (cut through the face of an unborn human being to harvest the brain) and why she was unable to do it (it was too horrific for her to go through with). Showing footage of a fetus of the same gestational age during the interview is neither misleading nor gratuitous given the content of the interview. Furthermore, the CMP video does not allege that the footage of the fetus was from the specific incident being described by the interviewee. In fact, that would be strange because if they had undercover video of that incident they would be playing that video in addition to / instead of an interview. You interview people precisely because you don’t have primary evidence of the thing you are interviewing them about. That is what, to a large extent, interviews are for. Nor does the CMP video allege that the fetus in the footage is aborted, and why should they? That is not actually relevant. The fetus that is the subject of the interview was aborted, the fetus in the stock footage is there as an illustration to show viewers what we’re talking about. This woman was asked to cut through the face of an unborn human being. This is what an unborn human being looks like. Given euphemisms about “products of conception” and “uterine contents” and so forth, the inclusion of illustrative footage is entirely legitimate.
So let’s turn to Fiorina’s comments. It’s clear that she, either in watching the video or in remembering it after the fact, conflated the stock footage with actual footage of a fetus that was about to have its brain harvested. I do not think it was a lie because I do not think it was intentional. People misremember. That’s part of being human. More importantly: I don’t think it matters.
Think about the Planned Parenthood rebuttal for a moment. A woman testifies that PP conducted an abortion that led to a living, intact fetus and then ordered this women to harvest that fetus’s brain. Fiorina passionately declares that this kind of barbaric treatment is a threat to our national character. Planned Parenthood says, “Aha, but you don’t actually have video of that specific incident.”
This non sequitur is as morally bankrupt as one of Donald Trump’s failed enterprises. Does it really matter if this particular fetus in this particular video is the one that had its brain harvested? Or doesn’t it actually matter whether or not there was such a fetus that had its brain harvested on or off camera? Does Planned Parenthood think that something morally repugnant becomes morally acceptable just because it was not caught on video?
Probably not. But they do understand very, very well that as long as something is not seen it cannot generate or sustain outrage. And that is the real secret to Planned Parenthood’s ongoing success. They do not provide the assistance to poor women that they claim to4, and every single service they do offer other than abortion can be accessed at other community health clinics that don’t perform abortions (not to mention harvest and sell human organs). But they continue to enjoy widespread support and hundreds of millions of dollars of government funding and the abortion industry as a whole continues on largely unregulated and unopposed because abortion is invisible. We don’t talk about the unborn human beings who die, we don’t even talk seriously about the costs to the women who procure abortions, we don’t even talk about the toll this kind of routinized violence takes on abortion providers.
The specific video that Fiorina thought existed does not exist. But the kind of incidents that threaten our national character did take place and continue to take place. Which of those truths matters more? Planned Parenthood doesn’t really care; they just want you to think there’s nothing to see here so that you’ll move along without looking too closely.
21 thoughts on “Was Fiorina Telling the Truth About Abortion?”
I notice two tensions in this piece. First, you seem to be arguing simultaneously that the video did not deceptively give the impression that it was showing video of an aborted fetus, and that it was perfectly sensible for Fiorina to believe it was. If the video made it clear that this wasn’t an aborted fetus, then it seems as though Fiorina was at least culpably reckless with the truth when she claimed it did; if one’s recollections aren’t clear, one ought not base claims on national TV on them. It seems to me that a much more plausible interpretation is that the stock footage was intended to be mistaken for footage of an aborted fetus.
Which brings me to the second tension: you seem simultaneously very cognizant of the power of vivid imagery, yet confident that we know what that power would be even when we don’t see it and don’t know exactly what it would show. That’s particularly problematic when you equate the impact of video of a fetus of a certain gestational age with video of another fetus of the same gestational age. Even a still-living fetus with its limbs attached might have been sufficiently damaged that actual video of it would make its death seem merciful. If the video contains information beyond the words, adding video which sounds accurate according to the words fills in additional information which may not reflect the actual situation. It’s a way of conveying a report in more detail than is available. In the best case, an unbiased journalist would use this tactic to make a story easier to grasp, but it would still be wrong. When we’ve reason to suspect that the journalist is heavily biased, it should be regarded with very great suspicion.
Not quite. The video was not deceptive, but it’s perfect understandable that she might have misremembered it. Just a glance at the research into the unreliability of eye-witness testimony will show you how malleable memory is. But we’re talking two separate things here, (1) the clarity of the video itself and (2) Fiorina’s memory of it after-the-fact.
I think the mistake is especially understanable–without suggesting the video is deceptive–given that (as I argue later) it’s not particularly relevant to keep in mind if this particular fetus had its brain harvested, or if it was some other.
Please feel free to watch the video yourself. You can find the link from the First Things piece (which I linked to). The footage of the fetus was about as un-manipulative as possible. It is simply footage of a fetus, born, in a metal basin, moving very slightly. There is no violence done to the fetus, no threat of violence, no evidence of harm. It is merely an example of what a born-alive fetus of that gestational age looks like.
As such, it’s use as an illustration–and clearly labeled–should not strike anyone as problematic.
You seem to assume that the fetuses aborted at a late enough stage for their organs to be useful for donation or research are generally healthy. Many abortions, especially late-term ones, are due to poor (often fatal) prenatal diagnosis.
I had an abortion at 29 weeks last December because my baby was diagnosed at 28 weeks with a fatal brain abnormality. I wish I had been given the opportunity to donate my baby’s tissue and/or organs for research or donation. If that had been a possibility–if my baby’s brain could have helped save lives–I dearly hope there would have been a doctor willing to perform the procedure. Would you consider it morally repugnant to take the organs from a baby that’s going to die anyway to potentially save others’ lives morally repugnant?
As an aside, the procedure I had is illegal in the state I live in (and most U.S. states). I was fortunate enough to be able to fly halfway across the country for safe and compassionate care in Colorado, where late term abortion for fetal medical indication is legal. However, my home state would have forced me to carry to term, which would have posed a greater threat to my life and ability to have children in the future, particularly because my baby’s condition could have caused her head to swell, making a vaginal birth impossible. There are more risks associated with cesareans, particularly for future pregnancies; a friend of mine died two years ago due to a uterine rupture along a previous cesarean scar.. Carrying to term would also have caused my unborn child greater suffering, as she was already experiencing seizures and showing signs of distress in the womb. I know there are women who would have chosen to carry to term despite the additional suffering it might have caused their child, and I would defend their right to make that choice if a “natural” death is more important to them than a merciful one. But I admit to finding that choice morally questionable, if not repugnant.
I am very sorry for what you endured. As a dad and as a dad of healthy children, I cannot pretend to understand what your experiences cost you.
Cases such as yours are as rare as they are tragic and complex. In this country, more than 95% of abortions are for purely elective reasons. This means the “hard cases” (as they are known) of pregnancies involving rape, severe fetal abnormality, or a threat to the mother’s life are less than 5% of all cases.
While it’s true that this number may be substantially higher for specifically late-term abortion, Planned Parenthood is willing and able to harvest organs from very young fetuses. It is a reasonable inference–and not a baseless assertion–to conclude that the vast majority of organs harvested are from healthy fetuses.
This is one resource to substantiate the general claim about the rarity of hard cases (there are many more): http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/abreasons.html
Because elective abortions–abortion of healthy fetuses–constitute the vast majority of abortions in the United States, that is where I place my emphasis.
No evidence of less than perfect health IS deceptive and manipulative–that’s my point. As Margot’s example points out and you have conceded, late-term abortions are more likely to result from hard cases, including severe, fatal birth defects. Those differences matter to our reaction to a video. We are more likely to countenance the harvesting of life-saving organs from a visibly doomed fetus than from a healthy one, and to see the role of Planned Partenthood in this as revolting, but morally valuable. Choosing the video they did forecloses that reaction.
I’m confused: in the First Things article, neither of the references to “its legs kicking” or “while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain'” is actually in the video (unless you’re talking about the stock video, where the fetus’s legs are moving, but since your whole point is that the stock video is NOT footage of the scene she’s describing, that doesn’t do much). The interviewee talks about how the heart is manually started beating again after the fetus has already died; see for example this video about a turtle heart still beating minutes after it is removed: http://science-behind.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-hearts-continue-to-beat-after-death.html . So at best, Fiorina got one thing more or less right: “Watch [stock footage of] a fully-formed fetus [of the same age as the one described] on the table.” The other things are simply not true; whether they were lies or her just embellishing things to create a much more dramatic story (which is also troubling), I don’t know.
More likely than 5%, sure. More likely than not? As in, more than 50% of the time? I’m very, very dubious.
The reality is that the vast majority of abortions–and thus the vast majority of organ harvesting–is from perfectly healthy fetuses. That is the baseline. What’s more, there is no meaningful legal distinction between the two in our law. So even if, even if we say that 50%+ of these late-term, organ-harvesting abortions are from “doomed” fetuses*, that doesn’t mean that showing a healthy fetus is misleading because, in that case, we’re still talking about a meaningful distinction between healthy fetuses and doomed fetuses that should be drawn, but isn’t
* And let’s be realistic here. A whole lot of the “doomed” fetuses are, in fact, fetuses diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. More than 95% of Down syndrome diagnoses lead to abortion, despite the fact that Down syndrome patients and their families cite higher than average happiness and life-satisfaction. So eve some of the “hard cases” are really not that hard, further undercutting this idea that what’s at stake is a question about what to do with a “doomed” fetus.
Most abortions are of healthy fetuses. Most organ harvesting is, too. (Think about it: how useful would organs from a “doomed” fetus be for research, anyway?) That’s what people oppose the most clearly, that’s what happens the most frequently, that’s what is germane, and that’s what the stock footage showed.
Fiorina conflated two things:
1. Stock footage of a fetus of this gestational age.
2. An eye-witness interview of a “procurement technician” who was ordered to cut through a living fetus’s face to remove the brain
She may have been wrong about the exact dialogue (e.g. whether or not someone literally said the words “We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” but–in terms of facts–she was basically right. According to the eye-witness testimony they had a live fetus and were going to cut its face off to harvest its brain.
The only confusion is whether the stock footage showed that particular fetus. It did not. Again: does that really matter?
I remain flabbergasted at the tortured logic exhibited by Planned Parenthood’s defenders. It’s morbidly fascinating to watch people fervently defending the indefensible.
“An eye-witness interview of a ‘procurement technician’ who was ordered to cut through a living fetus’s face to remove the brain” No. They cut through a *dead* fetus’s face to remove the brain. That is the difference. And it’s huge. And Fiorina not getting “the exact dialogue” right is important when what she claims happened (that a doctor wilfully cut into a living baby) is the exact opposite of what actually happened (cutting into a dead fetus). That’s a huge mischaracterization. It’s not “basically right” in terms of facts.
In terms of the eye-witness testimony, her exact words were that she didn’t know if the fetus was alive or not. And I understand what you’re saying: you can get a heart to beat after the animal it came from is dead, just like you can pour salt on frog legs to make them dance. It looks creepy. It doesn’t mean you’ve got a live frog. I will grant you all of that.
But the argument is that when you’re talking about tissue procurement from intact fetuses that means that the fetus was not killed in utero because doing so would require chemicals that would ruin the organs. So if you’ve got a fetus that is intact and you’re harvesting the organs, that is strong circumstantial evidence that it was born alive. Did they wait for it to expire on its own after? Did they intentionally kill it when they were ready to harvest? Did they just start cutting before it was really dead? Are any of these scenarios really palatable?
The basics are that we’ve got a fetus intentionally born alive and intact for the purpose of organ harvesting. Do I think this is standard operating procedure? Absolutely not. Do I think it happens? Absolutely. Kemit Gosnell is not an outlier. And in any case, standard surgical abortions often require dismembering a fetus in utero. While alive. Without pain medication of any kind. So it’s not like living dismemberment is somehow off the table. All of this stuff is routine.
And that is where Fiorina’s passion comes from, and the passion of a lo of the pro-life movement. And so yeah: in describing the concerning practices of delivering live, intact fetuses for the purposes of organ procurement: she got the important stuff right.
Your reasoning about the proportion of organs harvested from healthy fetuses is uncharacteristically poor. You assume independence where you concede it isn’t present, and then there’s this:
“[H]ow useful would organs from a ‘doomed’ fetus be for research, anyway?”
Come on. The idea that you’d need to have explained to you that the kidneys might develop just fine in a fetus which has no brain seems very odd. I can only assume the reason for this is that what you really care about is just that harvesting from healthy fetuses happens, and quibbling about the proportions strikes you as ignoring the crushing moral weight of the fact that we sometimes kill humans who could live long, healthy lives and harvest their organs. There’s a secondary awfulness to the reaction to imperfect but still healthy fetuses, and perhaps a tertiary concern about the avoidance of the opportunity to rise to the occasion of being gifted with a child with special needs, even about a culture which encourages people to see such opportunities in a purely negative light, thereby turning us all into moral infants.
If that’s all accurate, let’s skip the little stuff. I expect we’ll all agree that some healthy fetuses are aborted and their tissues harvested. It would be severely troubling if we were to be choosing to abort fetuses in order to do this harvesting. But does anyone think that happens? If not, how does the harvesting make an abortion which was going to happen anyway worse?
I get that, if you’re trying to establish that a tragedy is occurring, what seems relevant is the healthy fetuses. But if you’re concerned with whether abortion should be legal, the hard cases are also relevant. Dismissing them as not germane simply ignores the reason this is a hard problem for moderates.
I think all the arguing about the specifics is a side issue: this issue is about whether or not you, me, and society value life.
As a soon-to-be father of a child with a birth defect, I choose to value life. Even if there is hardship, suffering, and ultimately, loss.
Otherwise we are just selfish animals.
“It would be severely troubling if we were to be choosing to abort fetuses in order to do this harvesting.”
“But does anyone think that happens?”
Have you seen the videos? Regardless of the motivations of the women choosing to have second- and third-trimester abortions, do you seriously question the desire of Planned Parenthood to profit from their expertise?!
“If not, how does the harvesting make an abortion which was going to happen anyway worse?”
It’s worse because we’re talking about human beings. Human beings. These are human beings. Viable babies, in many instances. That’s why we’re sitting here having a conversation about what’s going on in Planned Parenthood centers.
Couple of responses:
I don’t know if doctors would be fine using healthy kidneys from a fetus that was suffering from a genetic disorder. I suspect some would be fine with it, other experiments would not permit it, but I’m not a medical researcher and I don’t know for sure. I suspect it depends on the specific problem, however, and is not as simple as “some organs bad, other organs perfectly fine,” at least not in all cases.
Somewhat, but there’s more to it than that. I am not interested in a total, no-exceptions ban on abortion. I am interested–first and foremost–in opposing elective abortions. Since that is the policy I favor, those are the cases I consider.
So this directly refutes your last paragraph:
You’re treating abortion as all-or-nothing. There’s no logical basis for us to do that. And, if abortion is not all-or-nothing, than it is not only permissible but necessary to separate elective abortions from hard cases. After all: my priority is banning elective abortions. Not opposing hard cases.
This is partially philosophical and partially tactical. Since the hard cases are so rare, I would probably be fine separating them even if they were morally equivalent in my eyes, just for the sake of getting most of the way to our goal. However, I do not think that the hard cases are morally or legally equivalent (especially rape), and so I’m quite sincere in my position that they should be treated differently under the law. Since I want to treat them separately in policy, it makes sense to treat them separately in argument as well.
(Obviously there are practical considerations: how do you differentiate hard cases and elective abortions legally? For now let’s just say I would love to have a law that banned abortions but had exceptions for hard cases in the language and say it could be on the honor system. Anything more involved that that would require a whole new post.)
Humans care for our dead. It is one of our distinguishing species as a features, and we have been doing it for millenia. So yes, the question of what we do with a fetus after we kill it is fraught with moral consideration. These are human bodies. Not defective electronic devices.
Thank you for your sympathetic words.
I know the vast majority of abortions take place in the first trimester and are “elective” (or at least not motivated by rape, fetal medical indication, or threats to the mother’s health). However, the video segment that you discuss in this post describes the practice of taking organs from a fetus at a later gestational age, so you were already focusing on a very rare phenomenon. The idea of harvesting tissue for medical research or therapies from a first-trimester abortion is very different from what Fiorina described and likely to elicit a different moral response (if not from you, than from many other people–indeed, why invoke the baby’s moving limbs and face otherwise?).
Approximately 7% of abortions take place after 14 weeks, and only 1.4% take place after 21 weeks. 96% of second trimester abortions are done by dilation & evacuation, after which there can be no expectation of intact, usable organs. So the scenario that Fiorina chose to focus on–keeping an intact fetus alive after a late-term abortion for the purpose of harvesting its brain–would only be possible in a maximum of 1.7% of abortions (the 1.4% performed after 21 weeks and the .3% between 14-20 weeks performed by labor induction). Realistically, it’s like to be far, far fewer, because in most labor & delivery abortions (like the one I had), the baby’s heart is stopped with an injection of digoxin 1-3 days before delivery is induced (and you’re so right: you cannot possibly understand the emotional trauma of having your much-wanted, much-loved baby’s heart stopped inside you).
It is difficult to find reliable statistics on the number of late-term abortions motivated by poor prenatal diagnosis, but I suspect it’s actually higher than 50%. I’m not quite sure you understand the difficulty and cost (not to mention trauma) of undergoing a late-term abortion, particularly one late enough that the standard procedure would be labor & delivery, thus enabling the kind of organ harvesting you’re talking about. When I got my diagnosis, my doctors told me there were four clinics in the country they could refer me to, and the referral was essential to my ability to get an appointment. The cost ranges from $12,500-$25,000, depending on the gestational age and size of the baby, the entirety of which is due on the first day you get to the clinic, and is very rarely covered by insurance (I was fortunate enough to be reimbursed; most women I’ve gotten to know since who’ve had late terminations for medical reasons are not so lucky). Dr. Hern, who performed my abortion, published in 2012 on the data from 1005 late-term abortions he performed between 1992-2012 for fetal medical abnormality: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24424620. I don’t know if that comprises 100% of the late-term abortions he performed during that time, but given the limited capacity of the clinic, it seems pretty plausible to me that it is.
Regarding Downs syndrome, your 95% figure is a zombie statistic. More recent (and careful) accounting suggests that the more accurate number may fall somewhere between 60-90% and is likely falling (see: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pd.2910/full). Furthermore, many of the 60-90% babies with Downs who are aborted have additional complications. Downs is a bit like cancer–it is not always a terminal diagnosis, but it can be. Depending on the particulars, people can live very rewarding lives for many years with Downs or they can suffer greatly and die very quickly. Between 5-15% of children born with Downs will die within the first year of life, usually due to congenital heart defects. The ability to diagnose those defects and the others that result in the perinatal death of so many babies with Downs is getting better all the time. For obvious reasons, the people with Downs syndrome most people encounter (and who live long enough to be included in studies of family happiness and life satisfaction) are the fortunate ones with better health and more independent functioning.
Finally, a note about emphasizing the “hard cases.” I am surely biased by my own experience of getting a diagnosis that happens in only 1 out of 84,000 pregnancies, but something that may apply to as many as 5% (1 in 20!) of abortions does not seem so rare to me as to be irrelevant. Particularly if you think that Fiorina’s focus on something that can happen in at most 1.7% of abortions *is* relevant. You are, of course, free to “place your emphasis” wherever you like, but it is very often attending to the limit cases that helps us ensure that we are supporting everyone in making compassionate, life-affirming, moral decisions across the wide spectrum of possible scenarios they may be faced with.
Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and also such great resources. For the most part, I am happy to leave your post stand as-is because I find nothing in it that I would like to debate.
But I want to clarify one thing at the end:
I do not believe that hard cases are irrelevant because they are rare. I believe they can and should be separated and discussed apart from elective abortion.
So it’s not the case that i think we can just look at elective abortions, come up with a policy, and then apply that to all cases–including the hard cases. That would be wrong, for the reasons you state.
It is the case that I think we can look at elective abortions, come up with a policy, and then apply that policy specifically to elective abortions. The hard cases deserve their own policy, most likely in the case of exceptions to the general rules that would apply in the case of elective abortions. For example, I support rape exceptions to all abortion bans.
Because of that exception, I do not need to discuss the hard case of rape when I’m talking about my opposition to elective abortion, because I have already set aside rape cases.
So that is my approach to the hard cases: treat them separately. Which is very different from ignoring them or pretending that they are too few to matter.
Does that make sense?
Yes, I understand treating “elective” abortion separately from “hard cases.” My main point is that when you’re talking about harvesting organs from aborted babies, you’re probably already in the realm of “hard cases.”
The footage of the baby in the medical pan (approx 5:56) was from Center for Bio-Ethical Reform. Gregg Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, confirmed the footage was of an aborted baby and said in a statement to The Federalist:
“The video clip we provided to CMP depicted an intact delivery abortion. It was filmed at an abortion clinic. It was not a miscarriage. Mothers don’t go to abortion clinics to miscarry. Had this case been a miscarriage, the mother would have presented at a hospital and her baby would have been rushed to an Isolette for appropriate neonatal care — not abandoned to writhe and eventually expire in a cold, stainless steel specimen vessel. As regards the organizational affiliation of the abortion facility in which this termination was performed, our access agreements forbid the disclosure of any information which might tend to identify the relevant clinics or personnel with whom we work. Preserving confidentiality is vital to future clinic access. I can, however, assure you that the footage in question is not anomalous. It is representative of the frequent outcomes of many late term intact delivery terminations performed at clinics of all organizational affiliations.”
Are you honestly going to claim that choosing to be an organ donor is a morally negative choice? Or that a parent who checks that box for their child thereby commits a moral evil? Or that a medical practitioner who respects that choice has done something wrong?
I understand if you think it would be wrong to violate the wishes of the deceased, insofar as we know them. I don’t share that view, but I understand it. But there is no plausible story on which the deceased in these cases have any wishes about the donation of their tissues or organs at all. So what reason is there to forego using this opportunity to learn how to cure the sick?
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