CHARLESTON, SC — More than 250 people flocked to The Citadel in Charleston on Tuesday to hear Carly Fiorina discuss foreign policy — an event that gave Fiorina, fresh off a solid debate performance and a surge in the polls, a chance to connect with voters concerned about national security. But many attendees told ThinkProgress they really came to see the only female GOP candidate, and the one they see as having the best shot to counter the “war on women” rhetoric often attributed to her party.
“On her card, it’s talking about how she’s trying to refute the war on women,” Charleston resident Mary Smith told ThinkProgress, pointing to the brochure Fiorina’s campaign gave to attendees. “She’s definitely trying to help us ladies out.”
Charleston resident Phyllis Lazar agreed, saying that “it would be amazing to have her up against Hillary Clinton because then they couldn’t sit there and use that ‘war on women’ stuff.”
The New York Times wrote last month that many Republicans are looking at Fiorina as “the party’s weapon to counter the perception that it is waging a ‘war on women.’” How exactly she will do that — aside from just being a woman — was less clear to Smith and other women in the audience.
When asked to define the “war on women,” Smith said the Democratic Party likes to attack the GOP for trying to take away women’s reproductive rights and access to birth control. “I don’t really see any of that happening,” she said.
She’s definitely trying to help us ladies out.
During the second GOP debate, Fiorina reignited the national conversation about Planned Parenthood, which has been the subject of a video campaign claiming that the organization is “selling aborted baby parts.” She spoke passionately about one of the highly edited attack videos, saying it showed a fetus on a table with a beating heart. Her claim has since been discredited — the video includes a woman describing a similar scene and then stock footage of a stillborn baby — but Fiorina maintains that she didn’t misspeak. Some of her female supporters agree.
“She was very on-point,” Smith said about Fiorina’s discussion of Planned Parenthood during the debate. “That kind of blew me away.”
Cleveland, Ohio resident Carol McDowell, who came to Fiorina’s event while on vacation in Charleston, said Fiorina’s debate performance really “won us over” — pointing to two of her friends. “I loved the Planned Parenthood response that she had. The things being done today — it’s gone way beyond just abortion and it needs to stop.”
Fiorina also got a standing ovation from the audience at Heritage Action’s presidential forum in Greenville last week when she called for defunding Planned Parenthood, saying the “butchering” seen in the videos is an assault on the character of the country.
The message resonated with women in South Carolina. “Look, I got my first set of birth control pills from Planned Parenthood a long time ago,” said Lazar, who added that she is actually pro-choice. “I have nothing against them, but they should not be selling baby parts. As a country, we shouldn’t be doing that.”
A government shutdown could be inevitable in the next week if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement about federal funding for the organization. If Planned Parnethood were to lose its federal contributions, the results would be disastrous for women across the country. About a quarter of the federal funding for the organization goes to family planning services for low-income people, like contraception, breast and cervical cancer screening, pregnancy tests, sexually transmitted infection testing, and HIV testing.
Federal funds are not permitted to be used for abortions. But anti-choice advocates like Fiorina don’t care, saying that abortions are clearly important to the organization and that receiving federal funding frees up more money to perform abortions.
Smith said she wasn’t bothered by the thought of Planned Parenthood being defunded, even though she believes that “every woman should have access to birth control.”
“We’re not sitting here saying don’t help women — that’s ridiculous,” Lazar said. Her husband added that “there are many other agencies that provide women’s health.”
The national battle against Planned Parenthood has already had real implications for women. In South Carolina, the Department of Health and Environmental Control suspended the licenses of two clinics that provide abortions, claiming the clinics violated a number of regulations including performing abortions sooner than 60 minutes after an ultrasound. The suspensions came after Gov. Nikki Haley (R) called for a review of Planned Parenthood’s practices, so women’s health advocates claim the inspections were politically motivated.
The two clinics could be shut down in the coming weeks if the department decides they have not addresses the alleged issues — none of which directly affect the treatment they provide to women. More than 6,500 women, men and young adults from across South Carolina turn to Planned Parenthood every year for medical and educational services, according to the organization. More than 70 percent of its patients in the state are uninsured and rely on Planned Parenthood for affordable care.