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Planned Parenthood debate spills into GOP presidential race

The push to defund the group is spilling into the presidential race in unpredictable ways. Scott Walker said he opposes a government shutdown over the issue.

The Republican push to defund Planned Parenthood is spilling into the presidential campaign in unpredictable ways.

At the GOP debate Wednesday, candidates lined up to show just how badly they wanted to shut down the women’s health provider. Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Jeb Bush—all current or former governors—each bragged out about defunding Planned Parenthood in their home states. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the group “an ongoing criminal enterprise.” And Carly Fiorina compared it to the threat from Iran.

“This is about the character of our nation,” Fiorina said to loud applause. “And if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.”

RELATED: Fiorina doubles down on Planned Parenthood falsehood

Cruz has been leading the charge on Capitol Hill, urging fellow lawmakers to join the defunding push and threatening to shut down the government over the issue.

But some Republicans are pushing back, aware that Cruz’s last crusade to shut down the government in 2013, this time over funding for Obamacare, achieved little besides angering voters. On Thursday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) sent a letter to Cruz taking issue with his plan.

“How do we get 60 votes? And if for some reason there were 60 votes, how do we get 67 votes in the Senate to overcome a Presidential veto?” asked Ayotte, who faces a tough re-election fight next year in as purple state.

Walker appears to agree. Asked directly on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" about the Cruz-Ayotte flap, the Wisconsin governor said Republicans should stop at forcing a presidential veto.

“I don’t think we should shut the government down,” Walker said. “I think we need to put it on the president’s desk and show where his priorities are.”

Planned Parenthood has been in Republicans’ cross-hairs lately after edited undercover videos showed the group’s officials discussing its involvement in providing tissue samples from aborted fetuses for medical research. By law, Planned Parenthood is barred from using federal money for abortions, which in any case account for only a fraction of its budget.

In Wednesday’s debate, Fiorina falsely described what the videos show, challenging President Obama to 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."

In fact, though two of the videos do show the group’s clinic employees working fetal tissue, they don’t show a fully formed fetus with legs kicking or heart beating. And no one says anything about having to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

Fiorina was challenged about her false comments on ABC’s "Good Morning America" Thursday, and didn’t back off.

“Rest assured, I have seen the images I talked about last night,” she said. “Rest assured, human lives are being harvested."