Carly Fiorina has long told a powerful and personal story about why she’s against abortion. Her husband’s mother had contemplated the procedure while she was carrying him — but ultimately decided against it.
This year, Fiorina, as a Republican candidate for president, started regularly telling another powerful, personal story that she said helped harden her antiabortion position. And two weeks ago, the story seems to have acquired two new words: Planned Parenthood.
It was 1970s Washington, and Fiorina was probably 23 years old. She accompanied a very good friend to an abortion clinic and saw face to face the effects of abortion on that woman, she said in January at a March for Life event.
Fiorina “watched the physical scars of that experience on her,” the candidate said in a quiet, measured tone. “And more especially the emotional trauma that I’m not sure she ever recovered from.”
It wasn’t until an appearance in Texas earlier this month hosted by Prestonwood Baptist Church and the Faith and Freedom Coalition that Fiorina added these words: “And we went to a Planned Parenthood clinic.”
It is a story that Fiorina told to small groups but did not emphasize during her candidacy for the Senate in California five years ago, according to multiple operatives who worked on that campaign.
Fiorina already has styled herself as an opponent of Planned Parenthood; the new reference to the group in her anecdote could strengthen her appeal among conservatives. The Republican Party is in the midst of a pitched battle against Planned Parenthood over a series of surreptitiously recorded videos that were advertised by the conservative organization that created them as a smoking gun — proof that Planned Parenthood has illegally sold fetal tissue from abortions. Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing.
Fiorina boosted her standing during last month’s Republican presidential debate, when she offered an impassioned rebuke of Planned Parenthood that earned her accolades among antiabortion activists. She was also criticized, though, because a video she described during the debate, of an aborted fetus at a Planned Parenthood clinic, apparently does not exist.
When asked about the origins of the story about her friend, Fiorina’s campaign first said that the details were recounted in Fiorina’s second book: “Tough Choices.” But neither her first nor her second book has any reference to the abortion anecdote.
Later, campaign spokeswoman Anna Epstein said she “could have been wrong” about the story being in Fiorina’s book and pointed to two news stories in which the anecdote had been mentioned.
In the end, the campaign declined to comment for this article — or to name the friend. “We have nothing to add,” Epstein said in an e-mail when asked about Fiorina’s decision to add the story to the campaign trail this year.
Fiorina first recounted the story of her friend’s abortion at the March for Life event in January, and she has since reprised it in two interviews — both conducted before she declared her candidacy for president.
In an interview with Breitbart News in May, Fiorina said that her friend was “never really encouraged to even evaluate that choice” and that the decision made her a “tortured woman” later. Similarly, she told Bloomberg Politics in April that her friend never “got over it, honestly.” Planned Parenthood is not mentioned in either interview.
That didn’t happen until the North Texas Presidential Forum in Plano on Oct. 18.
“I would say that I was raised that way but I wasn’t very thoughtful about it, honestly,” Fiorina said when asked to explain how she came to believe in the “sanctity of life.” “Then when I was in my early 20s, a very good friend of mine asked me to accompany her when she had an abortion.”
In the wake of the undercover video controversy, Planned Parenthood announced this month that it would no longer accept payments from research companies to cover the administrative costs associated with fetal tissue donations. Although the payments were legal, they had become fodder for antiabortion activists, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said at the time.
In a statement this week, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Eric Ferrero said Planned Parenthood leaves decisions on abortion, adoption or raising a child to a woman and her health-care providers.
“Planned Parenthood health centers ensure that patients have full information about all of their options,” he said.
Those who know Fiorina say she has been staunchly against abortion for years, even when she ran for the Senate in California, a socially moderate state.
Before Fiorina faced Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) in the 2010 general election, she had survived a tough Republican primary and won the coveted endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent antiabortion group. In the endorsement, the organization called Fiorina “100 percent pro-life” and noted that she “understands the tragedy that abortion brings into peoples’ lives.”
“During the 2010 Senate race I recall Carly telling several small groups about how she came to be pro-life,” Marty Wilson, who managed her California campaign, said in an e-mailed statement. “Specifically, I heard Carly on more than one occasion tell the story of when in her 20s she accompanied a friend to an abortion clinic.”
Boxer’s campaign manager that year, Rose Kapolczynski, does not recall the story emerging.
“I think if she had mentioned Planned Parenthood I would remember it,” Kapolczynski said in an interview, “because Planned Parenthood was a strong supporter of Barbara Boxer’s.”
Fiorina was “very anti-choice,” Kapolczynski recalled, but she noted that the Republican’s “rhetoric is much tougher now than it was running in California, which is a pro-choice state.”
Kapolczynski does remember Fiorina telling the story about her mother-in-law’s decision not to abort Frank Fiorina.
“She definitely told the story about Frank’s mother, which is unprovable,” Kapolczynski said.
Fiorina’s friend and adviser Fred Davis — who was also the ad man behind the infamous “demon sheep” TV ad during her Senate campaign but now works for a super PAC supporting GOP rival John Kasich — told The Washington Post in an e-mail that he has no recollection of the story about Fiorina’s visit to an abortion clinic.
“Sounds like fodder for this week’s debate!” he added in an e-mail.