Planned Parenthood lashed out at Carly Fiorina on Wednesday, accusing the Republican presidential hopeful of peddling “flat-out” lies about the group’s abortion services and urging her to visit one of its clinics to get a better sense of what the organization does for women’s health.
The vehement denunciation also showed how seriously Planned Parenthood is taking the candidacy of the only woman in the Republican presidential field, now that Ms. Fiorina has surged in polls and notched two stellar debate performances.
During the second debate, held last week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Ms. Fiorina said Americans should be outraged at undercover videos of Planned Parenthood’s operations. She said the videos showed “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.”
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, fired off a letter Wednesday to the Fiorina campaign accusing the former Hewlett-Packard CEO of promoting “false and scurrilous claims about Planned Parenthood.”
“You insist that a video exists showing graphic and disturbing images at Planned Parenthood. No such video exists — because no such events took place,” Ms. Laguens said. “You are repeating claims that have been discredited and debunked widely. I am writing to ask you directly to stop making false and offensive claims about Planned Parenthood.”
The organization also criticized a video created by Carly for America, a super Political Action Committee backing Ms. Fiorina’s bid, that Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said was fake because it misleadingly spliced together parts of a number of other videos.
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Ned Ryun, an adviser with Carly for America, said Planned Parenthood was targeting Ms. Fiorina because she succeeded in bringing attention to the issue.
“And she is a strong woman who is pro-life and saying she is pro-life and saying that Planned Parenthood should be defunded,” Mr. Ryun said. “It is easier for [Planned Parenthood] to say it is another white dude advocating for taking away a ‘woman’s rights,” whereas here you have a strong, smart, intelligent woman saying, ‘I am pro-life and this should be defunded.’”
Ms. Fiorina’s statement has divided people on all sides, and independent fact-checkers, members of the media and activists have offered various explanations of what the footage shows and whether it is misleading or not.
The candidate has stuck by her claims.
“I will continue to dare anyone who wants to continue to fund Planned Parenthood, watch these videotapes,” Ms. Fiorina said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Center for Medical Progress, the group that made the videos, said Planned Parenthood was simply trying to take the public focus off the content his group showed.
“This is nothing more than an effort to distract from the horrific behavior captured on those tapes, behavior that Planned Parenthood itself hasn’t factually refuted and that was horrific enough that even Hillary Clinton called it disturbing and worthy of investigation,” Greg Mueller said.
The dust-up comes amid a battle on Capitol Hill that could lead to a government shutdown.
The House voted 241-187 Friday to strip Planned Parenthood of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding next year. The Senate is expected to take up a spending bill Thursday that would cut money from the organization, but Republican leaders appear to lack to votes to pass it.
President Obama has threatened to veto any spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, has called the Republican effort “an attack on women’s health.”
“Republicans should be ashamed,” Mrs. Clinton recently said via Twitter.
Ms. Fiorina’s stock has been on the rise since the second debate, where she won praise for shutting down Donald Trump and for an impassioned plea to Republican lawmakers to send Mr. Obama a budget that ends funding for Planned Parenthood.
A CNN/ORC poll released this week showed Ms. Fiorina running second in the nomination race behind Mr. Trump by a 24 percent to 15 percent margin. The poll also found that she ranked third — behind Mr. Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — when respondents were asked who could best handle social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
In her letter to the Fiorina camp, Ms. Laguens took aim at a one-minute video by Carly for America that mixes some of Ms. Fiorina’s pro-life comments from the debate with video released by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress, which appears to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of aborted fetal tissue.
Ms. Laguens said the video relies on discredited audio and visual images that are “edited to deceive viewers.”
“Even then, this fake video doesn’t show what you have claimed,” she wrote. “Simply put, the video you described at the debate does not exist, and the video you’re now asking people to watch is not what you claim it is. This fraudulent video is beneath a serious candidate for the presidency, and you should take it down immediately.”
She also urged Ms. Fiorina to visit a Planned Parenthood clinic to “learn more about the full range of services it provides, spend time with the extraordinary doctors, nurses, and clinicians there, and meet some of the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for high-quality health care.”
“The patients you will meet depend on Planned Parenthood health centers as one of their few — sometimes only — sources of affordable, compassionate, high-quality health care,” she said. “These are the people whose health would be jeopardized if Planned Parenthood were defunded, as you advocate.”