IOWA CITY, IA — A group of Planned Parenthood supporters ambushed a Carly Fiorina meet-and-greet on Saturday, forcing the Republican presidential candidate to retreat into a security-protected area.
Wearing pink shirts and donning pom-poms, members of the group of around 15 to 20 people at one point threw condoms at Fiorina, who was greeting supporters at a tailgate party for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Chants of “Women are watching — and we vote!” and “Women’s rights are here to stay!” nearly drowned out the candidate’s voice as she attempted to answer supporters’ questions.
Fiorina has been taking heat in recent weeks for her comments about Planned Parenthood during the second GOP debate, where she addressed sting videos that purport to show the organization improperly selling fetal body parts. At the debate, Fiorina said those videos show an aborted fetus kept alive to “harvest its brain.” Fact-checking websites, however, have countered that this is untrue.
But Fiorina has been defending her comments during her campaign events this week in Iowa, telling supporters at the opening of her stump speech that the media “attacks” are a sign that she’s doing well. At her event in Iowa City, Fiorina told ThinkProgress of the protesters, “I think they spend their time shouting, instead of discussing the issues.” A campaign spokesperson also reportedly told The Guardian that they were “happy [protesters] are bringing more attention to the videos.”
One of those protestors was Cindy Shireman, 54, a criminal justice instructor at Southeastern Community College in Burlington, Iowa. Shireman said she directly confronted Fiorina at the event to ask “how, in good conscience, she could go for the nomination as a female and not be for women’s rights.”
“[Fiorina] said she is for women’s rights, not abortion,” said Shireman, who said she has been a Planned Parenthood patient for more than 30 years. “But I reminded her that Planned Parenthood is about health care, not just about abortion. Then she told me to get my statistics straight, and do some research.”
Shireman said she began going at age 16 for birth control, “because I came from a violent family and knew I didn’t want children.” Then, as a college student at the University of Iowa, she was raped, and went to Planned Parenthood because she didn’t know where else to go.
“They’re the ones who offered me support, and exams, and testing,” she said. “I think that I wouldn’t even be here today if it wasn’t for Planned Parenthood early on. They made me feel empowered to make my own decisions.”
After about 15 minutes of protesting, Shireman and the other Planned Parenthood supporters were blocked off from interacting with Fiorina by security guards, who confirmed to ThinkProgress that they were off-duty officers with the Johnson County Sheriff’s department. The campaign had paid the officers to be there, Fiorina’s spokesperson said.
The protestors retreated from the event after about 45 minutes. The remaining supporters mostly expressed opposition to the Planned Parenthood protestors and abortion in general. Fiorina smiled and took photos, including one with Vicky, a 54-year-old Democrat who said if she gets to vote for Fiorina it would be “the first time I’ve ever voted for a Republican.”
Vicky’s mother, however, worked for Planned Parenthood. And the abortion issue, for her, is a tough one.
“I believe a woman should have a choice,” she said. “But I don’t believe in what they’re doing over there at Planned Parenthood.”