The president of Planned Parenthood chastised Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina for comments she made that were based on a series of videos claiming that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue.
“It is extraordinary that someone running for president would lie in that way,” Cecile Richards told NBC's Chuck Todd. “That has been completely discredited by every reputable news source, and yet Carly Fiorina seems to continue to repeat the same lie.
Fiorina slammed the organization in the September 16th GOP debate. “Planned Parenthood is aborting fetuses alive to harvest their brains and other body parts,” the candidate said.
In the debate, she referenced a video where this procedure is being discussed, but neither the campaign nor any independent organization has produced a video that corroborates her specific claim. She repeated that claim on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Richards also said that the videos are “not a basis upon which to make decisions about an organization or a public policy.”
Fetal Tissue Debate
Most prominent members of today’s Republican party are opposed to Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue research. However, under President Ronald Reagan, the federal government created a panel to review the logistics and research behind fetal tissue transplantation, which concluded that there was no correlation between a woman’s decision to get an abortion and the specific use of tissue. Thus, fetal tissue research was deemed legal and ethically appropriate.
Reagan maintained a moratorium on fetal tissue research, which was subsequently lifted by President Bill Clinton.
Today, less than one percent of Planned Parenthood locations permit women to donate fetal tissue. That’s a small percentage – but Richards insists it’s a service worth maintaining.
“I do think it’s an important part of medical research,” she said.
Richards also pointed out that after the controversial videos were released on line, she has heard from more women asking to make a fetal tissue donation.
“And these women who make voluntary decisions to donate fetal tissue should not be shamed for doing it,” she said.
The Politics of Planned Parenthood
Richards, who has been the president of Planned Parenthood since 2006, told the New York Times in 2008 that “We aim to be the largest kick-butt political organization.”
But has the organization’s foray into politics caused more controversy in Washington that jeopardizes the group’s viability?
Richards says that with a record number of laws being passed nationwide to limit abortion access, Planned Parenthood’s advocacy in the political sphere has “never been more important.”
“I believe if we were not as active as an advocacy organization for women and women’s health, women in this country would have fewer rights than they do today,” she said. “And we can’t let that happen.”
She pointed out that the activist arm of Planned Parenthood, called the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is different from the main organization itself, which is strictly a health care provider.
In the process of becoming a more political operation, the group has alienated some supporters – like, for example, Maine Senator Susan Collins (R).
Over the summer, Collins drew the ire of pro-choice organizations for proposing a Department of Justice investigation into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donations.
While Collins said she has been a “strong proponent of family planning” throughout her tenure in the Senate, she also called the Planned Parenthood videos “appalling.”
“The callousness with which Planned Parenthood employees discussed the sale of fetal tissue is appalling” she said on the Senate floor in August. “It deserves our attention.”
Richards said she has a “strong relationship” with Collins despite their disagreement on the issue. Richards also said she would “love to have more Republicans support women’s health and women’s rights.”
“Abortion is legal in the United States,” she said. “And I don’t believe health care providers should be penalized for providing that service.”