Carly Schools GOP on How to Hit Hillary Hard for Supporting Planned Parenthood

NEWS ANALYSIS: Carly Fiorina effectively takes Hillary Clinton to task, as the Democratic front-runner tries to recycle her party’s 2012 ‘war on women’ campaign rhetoric.

Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton
Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton (photo: Getty photos by Chip Somodevilla and Spencer Platt)

WASHINGTON — “Hillary Clinton lies about Benghazi, she lied about emails, she is still defending Planned Parenthood, and she is still her party’s front-runner,” stated Carly Fiorina at yesterday’s early GOP debate on Fox News Channel.

Fiorina didn’t make the cut to be included in the later nationally televised political debate that showcased the leading Republican contenders. 

But her willingness to tackle Clinton’s stubborn support for Planned Parenthood head-on has offered a fresh strategy for the GOP, as it seeks to counter the Democrats’ “war on women” political meme that Clinton is seeking to employ again in the 2016 presidential election cycle.

In the spin room following yesterday's debate, Fiorina emphasized the need to drive a different narrative.

“What we should be talking about is the abomination of harvesting body parts from babies. That’s what the Planned Parenthood employees are calling them. That’s what we should be talking about and not let the Democrats distract us,” she argued.

After the release of the undercover videos by the Center for Medical Progress, Clinton initially said she was “disturbed” by the dramatic images and conversations that appear to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal organs.

Yet only days later, Clinton — the Democratic Party’s leading candidate for president — went on the offensive and attacked three of her GOP presidential opponents who have called on lawmakers to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider.

As the Senate prepared to vote on a bill Monday to bar $540 million in federal funding to the controversial organization (the bill won 53-46 majority support, but it failed to command the 60-vote threshold required to advance), Clinton appeared in a two-minute campaign video that described the Republican-led effort as a “full-on assault on women’s health.”

“We’re not going to let them get away with it. I’m proud to stand with Planned Parenthood,” declared Clinton, who made no mention of the controversy that has clouded the abortion provider’s credibility with the public.

But Fiorina, the only female Republican candidate, had earlier provided the rest of the GOP presidential field with a striking televised example of how to squelch the “war on women” drumbeat that Clinton is attempting to restart and how to challenge the Democratic front-runner over her continued support of Planned Parenthood.

In a July 21 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Fiorina took aim at the mainstream media’s coverage of Clinton on life issues.

“I would be delighted for once if the media asked Hillary Clinton about the extremism of her position: It is not a life until it leaves the hospital,” Fiorina, who was raised Episcopalian, told Tapper.


Shifting the Focus

Tapper’s interview was supposed to focus on a new Wisconsin law, which prohibits abortion after 20 weeks and provides no exceptions for incest or rape and was signed by Gov. Scott Walker, another GOP presidential candidate.

Clinton had attacked Walker for supporting the legislation and tweeted that the bill was “extreme and unacceptable.”

Fiorina’s own position allows for the two exceptions, but she refused to even address Tapper’s request for clarification regarding her own stance until she had covered the key points she wanted to score.

As Tapper tried to shift the topic to the Wisconsin legislation, Fiorina brushed him off and offered examples of what she viewed as Clinton’s pro-abortion extremism.

“It is Hillary Clinton’s position that a 13-year-old girl needs her mother’s permission to go to a tanning salon or get a tattoo, but not to get an abortion,” stated Fiorina.

“It is Hillary Clinton’s position that women should not be permitted to look at an ultrasound before an abortion, and yet people who are trying to harvest body parts can use an ultrasound to make sure those body parts are preserved so they can be sold,” commented Fiorina, in a reference to the undercover videos and to previous partisan attacks on the use of ultrasounds in crisis-pregnancy centers.

Finally, she compared the semantics employed by abortionists in the undercover videos with the very different language physicians use when discussing ultrasound images with happy expectant parents.

“If a woman was looking at that ultrasound at that same stage of her pregnancy, the doctor would not be talking about ‘fetuses’ or ‘specimens’ or ‘tissues,’” noted Fiorina.

“He would be saying, ‘Look at your baby’s heartbeat; look at your baby’s eyes.’”


Lessons Learned

Asked prior to last night’s GOP debate to comment on Fiorina’s recent statements, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports and funds pro-life candidates, told the Register, “Carly Fiorina was masterful in her ability to address this issue.”

The fact that Clinton could say she was “disturbed” by the undercover videos and then “reaffirm her fealty to the organization,” asserted Dannenfelser, “means she is more attached to her ideology and the money that will come from Planned Parenthood. She can’t step back and actually address what the world is seeing right now.”

Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, showed via her remarks that she learned something from her party’s past struggles to confront the issue of abortion, as well as Planned Parenthood and its powerful allies.

In recent years, Planned Parenthood has downplayed its role in providing abortions, noting on its website that abortions account for just 3% of services — a figure that Planned Parenthood critics dismiss as highly misleading, if not completely false.

And as polls confirm declining support for legal abortion after the first trimester, Planned Parenthood and abortion-rights supporters like Clinton are more likely to highlight its role as a provider of services that support “women’s health,” like cancer screenings, pap smears and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

In her video, Clinton described the effort to defund Planned Parenthood as an attack on “women’s health” and access to “reproductive health care.”

And she attacked three GOP candidates by name — Walker, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry — for actions they took against Planned Parenthood while serving as state governors, as well as “Republicans in Congress who will not waste a minute in voting to make that happen.”


‘Answer the Question’

Another Republican candidate, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, subsequently took a page from Fiorina’s campaign playbook and pushed back forcefully against Clinton and Planned Parenthood.

“The real issue here that Secretary Clinton won’t address is the conduct of Planned Parenthood,” charged Christie in a video released by his campaign that celebrated his own legacy of cutting off state funding of Planned Parenthood since he was elected governor in 2010.

In the video, released Aug. 3, Christie outlines his support for community health clinics and makes clear that he is not seeking to gut programs that advance “women’s health.”

Strikingly, Christie signaled that he would make Clinton’s defense of Planned Parenthood a campaign issue.

“Secretary Clinton, why don’t you answer this question: Do you support the conduct of Planned Parenthood, in the killing of children in the womb, in a way that maximizes their body parts for sale on the open market?”

“Secretary Clinton, answer that question,” said Christie at the close of the video. “I just did.”


Planned Parenthood’s Political Power

It may seem counterintuitive for Clinton to attack Planned Parenthood’s critics, rather than ignore the effort to defund the organization in the wake of the damaging series of undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress.

But her defense of the nation’s largest abortion provider underscores its influential role in the Democratic Party base, especially after President Barack Obama publicly embraced Planned Parenthood during the 2012 election year.

“Planned Parenthood is a vital partner to this administration, and we have worked very closely with Cecile [Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America] over the past four and a half years,” Valerie Jarrett, a top Obama adviser, told The New Yorker in 2013.

“During the campaign, Planned Parenthood was under attack in the Congress and in the states, so it was timely for the president to say how passionately he cares about protecting women’s health and their rights to control our own bodies,” said Jarrett in the interview.

Indeed, campaign strategists on both sides of the partisan divide viewed Obama’s 2012 endorsement as further evidence of his mission to secure an electoral victory by drawing support from single women, among other elements of a Democratic coalition that also incorporates minority groups and Millennials (young adults age 35 and under).

The Democrats’ “war on women” rhetoric caught the Republican leadership off guard, and two GOP Senate candidates who failed to effectively present their pro-life views and were labeled as insensitive to women were quickly forced out of their races.


New Political Landscape

Clinton appears determined to employ a similar political strategy in the 2016 campaign, as she attempts to replicate Obama’s electoral success.

But with the Center for Medical Progress videos continuing to reverberate nationally — and with the entire GOP presidential field now perceiving that Planned Parenthood and the abortion issue have become vulnerabilities rather than assets for the Democratic Party — pro-life leaders praised the collective performance of the Republican participants in last night’s debate.

“What a difference four years makes,” Dannenfelser said in a statement following the debates. “The Republican Party is smart, hitting the sweet spot on handling the abortion issue in a way that is politically smart while addressing a grave human tragedy.”

Added Dannenfelser, “[The] pro-life [message] is playing a major role in the primary and will go on to be a defining issue in the general election. With Hillary Clinton and other national Democratic leaders doubling down on their support for unlimited abortion on demand, up until the moment of birth, paid for by taxpayers, the pro-life stance will be a major advantage for the Republican nominee.”

Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.