GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina has spent the last two weeks repeating an erroneous description of videos secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists. That seems bound to continue as she makes her opposition to Planned Parenthood a centerpiece of her 2016 campaign.
Campaigning in South Carolina on Friday, Fiorina said she "absolutely" stands by her criticism of Planned Parenthood. She accused the women's health organization — it's also the nation's largest abortion provider — of pushing "propaganda" against her while being "aided and abetted by the media."
Fiorina has brushed off the facts surrounding her claim as a "technicality." Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, survived this week the latest attempt of conservatives in Congress to cut off its federal funding and accused her of lying.
The flap began at Republicans' Sept. 16 presidential debate, when Fiorina brought up widely circulated videos secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists and showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal tissue to researchers.
"As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape -- I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes," Fiorina 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."
That detailed scene does not occur in the videos, produced by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. One of the videos, still posted on the center's YouTube channel as of Friday, shows a woman identified as an "ex-procurement technician" from a firm other than Planned Parenthood discussing harvesting the brain of an aborted fetus.
As the woman talks, the video cuts away to show a fetus that producers say came from an older anti-abortion video. They say the fetus was aborted, though there is no proof of that or that the scene was filmed at a Planned Parenthood facility. There are no other persons shown in the clip discussing collecting any tissue.
A separate image shown later in the video is that of a stillborn baby miscarried in a hospital after 19 weeks of gestation.
After Fiorina was questioned multiple times about her claims, a pro-Fiorina super PAC released an online ad that again included the image, with the claim that "Carly Fiorina won the debate. Now come the false attacks."
Fiorina has pushed back in multiple interviews. Often, the crux of her argument, beyond sticking to her incorrect description of the anti-Planned Parenthood videos, is that she has not misrepresented the group's actions and that the larger issue is about the character of the nation.
"They're trying to have a conversation about a technicality about a videotape," Fiorina said last week at Christian women's health center in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The center, which does not provide abortions, has become a popular stop for Republican presidential candidates. "The character of this nation cannot be about butchery of babies for body parts," Fiorina said.
At another South Carolina stop, she linked liberals' support for abortion rights with environmental regulations. "They are perfectly prepared to destroy other people's jobs and livelihoods and communities in order to protect fish and frogs and flies," she said. "But they do not think a 17-week-old, a 20-week-old, a 24-week-old is worth saving. This, ladies and gentlemen, is hypocrisy."
Yet when asked specifically about the video, she's never budged. On NBC's Sept. 27 edition of "Meet the Press," host Chuck Todd asked Fiorina if she would admit to "exaggerating" the scene in question. "No, not at all," she said. "That scene absolutely does exist." But she has not produced the footage and even anti-abortion activists say it does not exist as she has described it.
On Friday, she asked in South Carolina, "Why is it Planned Parenthood cannot and will not deny late-term abortions are being performed for the purposes of obtaining brains and other body parts? ... It's happening."
Planned Parenthood doesn't dispute that fetal tissue is sometimes taken for research, but notes the practice is legal and payments only cover expenses of the process.
"In two states, Planned Parenthood helps patients who want to donate tissue for fetal tissue research, following clear guidance that goes well above and beyond the legal requirements in this area," said spokesman Eric Ferrero, referring to California and Washington. "This work is not about 'harvesting' or 'selling' or 'profiting' — it is about helping facilitate patients' wishes to support medical research that can help treat and cure serious diseases."
Recent polling suggests Fiorina's criticism of Planned Parenthood is out of step with the wider electorate but in line with conservatives. Pew Research Center found in a Sept. 22-27 poll that 60 percent of adults in the U.S. wanted a budget deal to maintain funding for Planned Parenthood. But among Republicans, 66 percent said any budget deal must eliminate the money — 78 percent among those who identify as "conservative Republicans."
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Aiken, South Carolina, contributed to this report. Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .
This story has been corrected to show that one image in the video is purported to be an aborted fetus; a separate image is that of a miscarried fetus, not the same one. Neither is tied to Planned Parenthood. The story also corrects that a pro-Fiorina video was released by a super PAC backing her campaign, not her campaign committee.