Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, a staunch opponent of abortion, made at least $83,000 serving on the board of directors of Merck & Co. at a time when the pharmaceutical company was producing vaccines using fetal stem cell lines derived from aborted fetuses, according to corporate documents reviewed by Al Jazeera America. The program “Inside Story” with Ray Suarez also obtained documents indicating that during Fiorina’s tenure on the board, anti-abortion groups had asked Merck to stop producing such vaccines, and that the company had refused.
Fiorina has been openly supportive of vaccines derived from fetal stem cells at least since her California Senate run in 2010. According to the Los Angeles Times, Fiorina clarified that, “It is when embryos are produced for the purposes of destruction, for the purposes of stem cell research that I have a great deal of difficulty.”
She served on Merck’s board from April of 1999 through December of 2000, according to Merck’s SEC filings from the time.
The Fiorina campaign did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment. Merck confirmed Fiorina’s tenure on the board, but said it does not retain the relevant compensation records from that time.
In addition to the $83,000 Fiorina received over her two years on the board, the company’s SEC filings indicate she was to receive an additional $1,200 for each board meeting she attended.
Fiorina’s tough anti-abortion stance briefly sent her soaring in the polls, after a Republican candidates’ debate in which she dared President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to watch what she said was a video in which Planned Parenthood medical personnel harvested tissue from an aborted fetus, the heart of which was still beating.
Her campaign was never able to produce a video matching her description; two of the people who engineered attempted sting videos of Planned Parenthood personnel discussing the use of fetal tissue were indicted this week on charges related to human-organ trafficking. The District Attorney in the case said Planned Parenthood had been cleared.
At least two Republican presidential candidates – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. – have indicated they oppose vaccines or research that utilize stem cells derived from aborted fetuses. Neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson last year defended his past work involving fetal stem cells.
Debi Vinnedge, executive director of anti-abortion group Children of God for Life, told “Inside Story” that her group told Merck at least as early as March of 2000 that they objected to the company’s work with vaccines.
Vinnedge provided “Inside Story” with a copy of a letter dated November 2000, in which a Merck representative acknowledges the group’s complaints and defends its vaccines.
According to the Merck letter, “human diploid cell lines, which are approved and maintained by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under strict federal guidelines, originated from two legal abortions in the United Kingdom and Sweden in the 1960s. These abortions were not undertaken with the intent of producing vaccines.”
The stem-cell lines in use today are used primarily in Merck’s MMR and MMRV vaccines, the only measles, mumps and rubella vaccines in the United States.
Vinnedge said she believes Fiorina might not have been aware that Merck’s vaccines utilized stem-cell lines derived from aborted fetuses, but said, “if she’s stridently pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, she would not be in favor. She would not want to be on the board of a company that was doing that.”