New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the CNN Republican presidential debate on Wednesday. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

THE SECOND Republican presidential debate took place as the nation faces the possibility of another destructive government shutdown. Instead of the responsible discussion one would hope to hear from those asking to be entrusted with the fate of the country, the candidates by and large exacerbated the threat of a shutdown with inflammatory pandering on the subject of Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina all seemed willing to force a government shutdown based on invective and deceptive claims. By comparison, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and, in the earlier debate, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) appeared almost statesmanlike in acknowledging the recklessness of passing a budget without Planned Parenthood funding since they know it will be vetoed by the White House, though they also favor defunding this highly useful organization.

Mr. Cruz, Mr. Christie and Ms. Fiorina all alluded to a series of heavily edited videos produced by antiabortion activists that have become a flash point in efforts by congressional Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood. Mr. Cruz labeled the family planning provider an “ongoing criminal enterprise” and said the videos show Planned Parenthood officials “bartering and selling the body parts of human beings . . . essentially [confessing] to multiple felonies.” Mr. Christie referred to the “systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts.” Ms. Fiorina challenged President Obama and Hillary Clinton to view the tapes and “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.”

Those characterizations are false. The videos, highly suspect because of how they were produced, contain callous, even insensitive, discussion of medical procedures and aborted fetal tissue, but there is no instance of any Planned Parenthood official discussing the sale of fetal tissue for profit. The images described by Ms. Fiorina, as has been pointed out by media fact checkers, don’t exist.

What is true is that two out of 59 Planned Parenthood affiliates (down from seven) are involved in legal fetal tissue research, offering a connection between scientists and women who want to donate tissue. The only money these affiliates receive is reimbursement for their costs. No federal money, with few exceptions, is used for abortions in any of the affiliates; most of the federal funding to Planned Parenthood helps women, many of them low-income, receive vital services such as family planning and cancer and sexually transmitted disease screenings. Also true is that most Americans don’t want Planned Parenthood defunded and most certainly don’t want the government closed over the issue.

During GOP debate, Carly Fiorina said "shame on us" if lawmakers don't stop a bill from passing that funds Planned Parenthood. (CNN)

It’s unclear who won Wednesday’s debate, but the clear losers of this segment of conversation were reason and facts.