“As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape – I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes,” the GOP candidate 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.”
The video (WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC CONTENT) Fiorina referenced – part of a reported thousands of hours of footage gathered by an anti-abortion group investigating Planned Parenthood – does show a still image of a fetus outside the womb, as well as footage in which a fetus’ arm and leg appear to be moving.
At no point in that particular clip does anyone reference plans to remove the brain from the fetus.
In the video, Holly O’Donnell, a former procurement technician for StemExpress, recounts how another technician called her over to see a fully intact fetus and then tapped on its heart to make it start beating. (StemExpress is a biotechnology company that uses procurement technicians to draw fetal tissue for medical research. The company cut ties with Planned Parenthood in August after videos were released claiming to prove Planned Parenthood illegally sells aborted fetal tissue and organs for profit. The specifics of how Planned Parenthood handles fetal issue is another debate in itself.)
“I’m sitting there and I’m looking at this fetus and its heart is beating, and I don’t know what to think,” O’Donnell says in the video.
She later suggests that the fetus may not in fact be alive, but rather, simply responding to electrical stimulus.
“I know why it was happening, because an electrical current in its nodes were still firing,” O’Donnell says. “And I don’t know if that constitutes it’s technically dead, or it’s alive.”
The authenticity and content of the undercover videos – as well as Fiorina’s comments about them – remains an ongoing topic of contention.
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, Erica Sackin, tells PEOPLE that the still image of the fetus shown in the video is actually of a 19-week-old fetus that was stillborn – not aborted. The website ThinkProgress reported that the Center for Medical Progress, the right-wing group behind the anti-Planned Parenthood video campaign, took the photo from the grieving mother’s blog without her permission and recycled it for the clip.
According to ThinkProgress, the Center for Medical Progress later revised the description of its YouTube video to clarify that the “image of Walter Fretz, born prematurely at 19 weeks,” came from a 2014 Daily Mail article telling mom Alexis Fretz’s story.
The Planned Parenthood spokesperson adds that the video of the moving fetus is stock footage from an anti-abortion archive called the Grantham Collection and Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, as was also reported by The Wall Street Journal.
(Slate previously reported that the center pays doctors and clinics to allow contract photographers into operating rooms to document abortions, and then sells those images to anti-abortion groups and protestors.)
Asked about Fiorina’s statements at the debate, a spokeswoman for her campaign referred The Wall Street Journal to a shorter YouTube video (WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC CONTENT) that also relies heavily on ex-technician Holly O’Donnell’s statements and uses the same fetus imagery from the aforementioned undercover video.
“Planned Parenthood wants to keep spending taxpayer dollars and hide the truth about their business. Unfortunately for them, Americans can go watch these videos for themselves and are horrified,” Fiorina’s campaign said in a statement to NBC News. “Carly dared President Obama and Hillary Clinton to watch them. We hope they will and we hope they will tell us how they can justify sending taxpayer dollars to an organization that traffics in babies’ organs.”
But another spokesman for Planned Parenthood, Eric Ferrero, says in a statement that Fiorina’s comments “are just flat-out untrue. There is no video showing what she claims. It simply does not exist. Carly Fiorina is lying.”