CNN's Debate Fact Check Rates Carly Fiorina's False Claim About Undercover Planned Parenthood Videos As “True, But Misleading”

During the second GOP presidential candidate debate on September 16, Carly Fiorina falsely claimed that the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress' videos targeting Planned Parenthood contained footage of “a fully formed fetus on the table...while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” Even though multiple fact checkers subsequently noted that the videos contained no such footage, CNN nevertheless rated the false claim as “true, but misleading.”

Carly Fiorina Falsely Describes Scenes And Dialogue From The Deceptively-Edited Center For Medical Progress Videos

Carly Fiorina: “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.” During CNN's September 16 GOP presidential debate, Carly Fiorina said, “I dare” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama to watch the deceptively-edited videos put out by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress. From The Washington Post's debate transcript (emphasis added):

FIORINA: 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, it's heart beating, it's legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. [Washington Post, 9/16/15]

CNN “Fact-Checking Team” Rates Fiorina's Claims “True, But Misleading”

CNN's Post-Debate Special Called Fiorina's Statement “True But It Is Misleading.” During CNN's post-debate special, CNN correspondent Tom Foreman discussed Fiorina's statements about having seen in the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress' videos targeting Planned Parenthood “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.” Foreman says Fiorina's statement was “true but it is misleading”:

TOM FOREMAN: Carly Fiorina jumped into the fray by taking on those videotapes surreptitiously shot that allegedly show Planned Parenthood employees or associates trying to sell body parts from aborted fetuses.


FOREMAN: Is there really something on these videotapes that looks like that? Yeah, there is actually a short portion in one of the videotapes that does show a fetus, looks kinda like that's what's going on... but, but it's edited in, there is no proof nor any way to ascertain that this had anything to do with Planned Parenthood when it came to that piece of videotape. So what she said here is 'true but it is misleading.' [CNN, 9/16/15] Rates Fiorina's Statements About CMP Video As “True, But Misleading.” An article published on by the “CNN Fact-Checking Team” -- described as “researchers, editors and reporters across CNN” -- analyzed some of the GOP candidates' statements during the September 16 debate and rated them “True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It's Complicated.” rated Fiorina's statement about the footage in CMP videos “True, but misleading.” From (emphasis added):

Fact check: Carly Fiorina says a Planned Parenthood video shows a “fully formed fetus on the table, with its heart beating, its legs kicking.”

Fiorina was referring to a video released by the anti-abortion group The Center for Medical Progress last month, in which a former worker for StemExpress, a biomedical research company, said she saw a fully formed fetus's heart beating.

“This is the most gestated fetus and closest thing to a baby I've ever seen,” Holly O'Donnell, a former procurement technician for StemExpress, said in the video. “I'm sitting here looking at this fetus and its heart is beating and I don't know what to do.”


The clip does show what appears to be a fully formed fetus on an operating table with its legs twitching. But the clip Fiorina references is not part of the CMP sting video but was instead taken by another anti-abortion group and was added to the sting video. The Center for Medical Progress, however, doesn't explain where the fetus video was shot, so it's not clear whether it was taken at a Planned Parenthood clinic. For its part, the women's health organization has flatly denied the accusations.

VERDICT: True, but misleading [, 9/17/15]

Multiple Media Outlets Say Fiorina Is “Wrong” And “Might Have Trouble Finding This Video To Show To Clinton”

VOX: “Carly Fiorina Is Wrong About The Planned Parenthood Tapes. I Know Because I Watched Them.” Vox reporter Sarah Kliff wrote that Fiorina's description of the footage in CMP's videos is “pure fiction,” adding, “Fiorina is wrong: Nobody watching the Planned Parenthood tapes would see those things.” From Vox (emphasis added):

Carly Fiorina gave a harrowing description of the Planned Parenthood sting videos at Wednesday's Republican debate, challenging Barack Obama to 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.”

Fiorina is wrong: Nobody watching the Planned Parenthood tapes would see those things. I know, because I recently watched all 12 hours of footage.


The videos do show Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue, sometimes in ways that are callous and jarring. But there is no moment where Planned Parenthood discusses procuring fetal tissue for profit, nor is there the scene that Fiorina describes.


But the things Fiorina describes -- the legs kicking, the intact “fully formed fetus,” the heart beating, the remarks about having to “harvest its brain” -- are pure fiction.


[T]here is a mini-documentary series produced by CMP, the group that conducted the Planned Parenthood sting videos, called Human Capital. This series uses some footage from the tapes shot inside Planned Parenthood, as well as stock footage, clips of cable news shows, and an interview with a former fetal tissue procurement technician who worked with a company that worked with Planned Parenthood.

The third Human Capitol video has stock footage of a fetus kicking on a table -- though that footage isn't from inside a Planned Parenthood. It also has an interview with Holly O'Donnell, the former technician, who claims to have seen a fetus with a beating heart. O'Donnell says that, in her former job, she was once instructed to procure the brain tissue from the remains of an aborted fetus.


There is no video of the images that O'Donnell describes seeing, nor is there any mention of instructions to “keep it alive so we can harvest its brain,” so it's still not the footage Fiorina describes having watched. [, 9/17/15] Rates Carly Fiorina's Statement About Planned Parenthood Videos “Mostly False.” A September 17 article by the Tampa Bay Times' examined Fiorina's claims of what can be seen and heard in CMP's videos and rates her statement as “Mostly False.” From (emphasis added):

Fiorina's claim makes it sound like there is actual footage of Planned Parenthood examining an aborted fetus whose heart is still beating, while someone says “we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” There isn't.

Fiorina is likely talking about this 10-minute Aug. 19 video. (Warning: The video contains extremely gruesome footage.) The video shows an interview with a woman talking about a scene similar to the one Fiorina describes; the video's creators have matched her interview with grisly stock footage of a fetus outside the womb.


The Center for Medical Progress video does not show actually show footage of O'Donnell's experience, and there's nothing else in the video to corroborate O'Donnell's story. Additionally, the supervisor in O'Donnell's story does not say anything about keeping the fetus alive specifically for the purpose of harvesting the brain.

To dramatize O'Donnell's interview, the video cuts to a fetus outside the womb, placed on what appears to be some sort of examination surface, and the fetus' legs are moving. The Center for Medical Progress says the source of the footage is the Grantham Collection, an organization that hopes to stem abortion by promoting graphic images of the procedure. We don't know the circumstances behind this video: where it came from, under what conditions it was obtained, or even if this fetus was actually aborted (as opposed to a premature birth or miscarriage).

Our ruling


One of the Center for Medical Progress' videos attacking Planned Parenthood shows an interview with a woman identified as a former tissue procurement technician, who tells about an experience in a Planned Parenthood pathology lab where she sees a fetus outside the womb with its heart still beating. According to the woman, her supervisor said they would procure the fetus' brain. The video's creators added footage of an aborted fetus on what appears to be an examination table, and its legs are moving. But Fiorina makes it sound as if the footage shows what Planned Parenthood is alleged to have done. In fact, the stock footage was added to the video to dramatize its content. We rate her statement Mostly False. [, 9/17/15]

Washington Post Fact Checker: “No Video Has Surfaced Showing The Scene Fiorina Describes” At Planned Parenthood. A Washington Post Fact Checker article on September 17 by Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee also found that Fiorina's statements about what she claims to have seen in CMP's videos were inaccurate. From The Washington Post (emphasis added):

Fiorina might have trouble finding this video to show to Clinton. No video has surfaced showing the scene Fiorina describes taking place inside a Planned Parenthood facility.

But the third episode of secretly-taped videos by the Center for Medical Progress includes a disturbing interview with a technician at [sic] at biotechnology company that had partnered with Planned Parenthood affiliates in California to purchase aborted fetus parts.

Holly O'Donnell, the technician, said she witnessed a scene similar to Fiorina's description, but it is not actually shown.


There are images of an aborted fetus intercut with her narrative. [Washington Post, 9/17/15]

Politico Wrongometer: “No, Planned Parenthood Videos Don't Show A Fetus' Heart Still Beating.” A fact check by Politico's policy reporters explained that “no, Planned Parenthood videos don't show a fetus' heart still beating” and pointed out that Fiorina based her claim on an interview shown in the video with a “former employee of the fetal tissue procurement company StemExpress” who talks about seeing the images Fiorina described, but the “video relies solely on the interview and does not include footage to support her claims.” From Politico (emphasis added):

The videos that have stirred up so much trouble for Planned Parenthood don't show what Fiorina claims.

An anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, has released several videos alleging that the women's health organization illegally profits from fetal tissue sales. In one video, a former employee of the fetal tissue procurement company StemExpress -- which, until recently, worked with Planned Parenthood -- alleges that she saw an aborted fetus' heart beat after a clinician tapped its heart.

That video relies solely on the interview and does not include footage to support her claims.

The group's undercover videos do show specimens of fetal tissue in some Planned Parenthood clinics, but at no point do they include footage of an entire aborted fetus. [Politico, 9/16/15]

ABC's George Stephanopoulos: “Analysts Who Have Watched All 12 Plus Hours Say ... That Harrowing Scene [Fiorina] Describe[s] Actually Isn't In Those Tapes.” During the September 17 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, host George Stephanopoulos referenced Vox's debunking of Fiorina's claim and asked Fiorina herself if she “misspoke.” Fiorina repeated her claim that she has “seen those images” in the videos. From Good Morning America (emphasis added):

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Another powerful moment last night was when you talked about those Planned Parenthood tapes. But analysts who have watched all 12 plus hours say the scene you describe - that harrowing scene you describe -- actually isn't in those tapes. Did you misspeak?

CARLY FIORINA: No, I didn't misspeak and I don't know who you're speaking about in terms of watching the tapes but I have seen those images. I don't know whether you've watched the tapes, George, most people haven't. Certainly none of the Democrats who are still defending Planned Parenthood have watched those tapes. Planned Parenthood needs to be defended. This kind of butchery erodes at the character of our nation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure, well Sarah Kliff, actually, writing in Vox watched all 12 hours, and she concluded, 'Either Fiorina hasn't watched the Planned Parenthood videos or she is knowingly misrepresenting the footage. Because what she says happens in the Planned Parenthood videos simply does not exist.'

FIORINA: Well, you know, there's a lot of commentary about these tapes being doctored. In fact, that's what the mainstream media keeps talking about, is the tapes and their origin. Rest assured I have seen the images that I talked about last night. Rest assured that human lives are being aborted fully formed in order to harvest body parts. Rest assured that this erodes at the character of our nation, and once again I will say, I dare Mrs. Clinton and President Obama, two defenders of Planned Parenthood, to watch these videotapes. [ABC, Good Morning America, 9/17/15] The Scene Fiorina Described “Does Not Exist In Any Of The Videos.” A September 17 article by states that Fiorina's description of a fetus that was kept alive to “harvest its brain” was not shown in any videos put out by the Center for Medical Progress. The article points out that there were other images of what appear to be intact fetuses, but nothing that matches Fiorina's description (emphasis added):

Fiorina's description matches up with one of the videos in a series the Center for Medical Progress has called “Human Capital” -- but only with regard to how an interviewee describes her experience. Holly O'Donnell, an “ex-procurement technician” for StemExpress, a company that procures fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood clinics, relates a story of an intact fetus. She says that a Planned Parenthood doctor “taps the heart and it starts beating,” and then instructs her to remove its brain for collection.

The video does contain images of what appear to be intact fetuses, but they don't fit Fiorina's description. In one, where a fetus does appear to move, there is a caption saying that the footage is from the pro-life Grantham Collection and Center for Bio-Ethical Reform; there is no indication as to where the footage was shot. In the other, it was revealed after the video's release that the image was of a stillborn baby, rather than an aborted fetus.

Though we cannot verify if part or all of O'Donnell's story is true, the scene Fiorina “dares” others to watch is not present in any of the Planned Parenthood videos. [, 9/17/15]