WASHINGTON -- In the second GOP presidential debate Wednesday night, candidate Carly Fiorina passionately described a graphic scene from an undercover video of Planned Parenthood in which a fetus that survived an abortion waits, its "heart beating" and "legs kicking," for a technician to harvest its brain. On Friday, House Republicans passed a pair of bills inspired by the same videos: One measure would defund Planned Parenthood and another would protect "abortion survivors."
The problem is, the videos are so heavily edited that they bear little resemblance to reality, and the scene Fiorina described doesn't exist.
She was most likely referring to the video in which Holly O'Donnell, a former procurement technician for a biomedical company, talks about having seen a fully formed aborted fetus, with its heart still beating, in a pathology lab. The video doesn't show any footage from the scene, but instead shows a graphic image of someone holding a small fetus in their hands. That image is not an aborted fetus, as the video suggests. Rather, it was taken from the blog of a woman named Alexis Fretz, who miscarried at 19 weeks and posted images of her still-born baby online.
There is another image in the videos of a fetus that's moving, similar to the one Fiorina described. But as the Los Angeles Times points out, this image wasn't captured by the Center for Medical Progress during its undercover sting; it's credited to two other anti-abortion groups. There's no evidence to suggest that image is from an abortion or related to Planned Parenthood, and no one in the video is saying they want to keep the fetus alive to harvest its brain.
These outside images are not the only misleading moments in the videos, which were produced by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. Separate conversations are cut and spliced together to appear as if they are one line of discussion. Subtitles in the videos do not match the words being said. Entire chunks of time are missing from the footage -- even from the supposedly full, "unedited" videos that the Center released along with the more heavily edited ones.
A forensic analysis of the videos found they are so egregiously manipulated that they would never be accepted as evidence in a court of law.
Congress requested the real, unaltered videos of Planned Parenthood from the Center for Medical Progress earlier this week, but the Center has not yet released them to anyone. Meanwhile, multiple state investigations and a federal investigation into the accusations against Planned Parenthood have failed to produce any evidence to support the claims in the videos.
But Republicans lawmakers continue to legislate based on the videos. GOP members of Congress screened the videos at a legislative hearing Thursday afternoon to support their effort to defund Planned Parenthood, as Democrats balked in disbelief. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) skewered his GOP colleagues once the videos ended.
"I just think it's so irresponsible to use this type of material -- false material, inaccurate, misleading videos -- to make any case at what is supposed to be a legislative hearing," Pallone said. "Yet Republicans are openly ignoring the mounting evidence that the videos are fake and continuing to legislate based on them."
The criticism fell on deaf ears.
"They're not doctored," Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) said of the videos on the House floor Friday morning before the votes. "I daresay none of these folks we're hearing from on the other side of the aisle have watched them."
"Harvesting body parts, how could anyone defend that?" Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) shouted into the microphone during the emotional debate.
The videos, even in their heavily edited form, do not show Planned Parenthood harvesting and selling body parts. What they do show is Planned Parenthood doctors having frank, technical conversations about abortion procedures with actors that are posing as fetal tissue procurement technicians. The doctors discuss the modest reimbursements Planned Parenthood is legally allowed to receive to cover the costs of donating fetal tissue for medical research.
One doctor makes an inappropriate joke about wanting to buy a Lamborghini with the reimbursements, which amount to a maximum $60 per specimen donated. Considering that only two Planned Parenthood clinics in the country actually donate fetal tissue, and the $60 fee has to cover the costs of preserving and transporting each specimen, it's absurd to think the doctor was serious about buying a luxury sports car with that money.
The Republican effort to defund Planned Parenthood is unlikely to succeed anyway. The Senate doesn't have the votes to pass it, and President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it were to somehow make it to his desk. But the videos have already become a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, with the Republican candidates accepting their claims as fact.
"Let's ask Hillary Clinton," Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) said during the debate. "She believes in the systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts in a way that maximizes their value for sale."
Clinton responded in an email to reporters. "Repeating false statements doesn't make them true, no matter how many times you do it," she said.
Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.
This post has been updated to explain footage of a moving fetus in the Planned Parenthood video.
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