Politics & Policy

Lila Rose among Deadly Thorns

A sex trafficker and a prostitute walk into an abortion clinic . . . and get business advice.

That’s the scenario that has played out in multiple undercover videos released this month by Live Action, a group founded by 22-year-old Lila Rose. The videos include the complete footage of visits to seven clinics in New Jersey, New York, and Virginia, and there is also audio from a visit in Washington, D.C.. The willingness of Planned Parenthood workers to provide, in Rose’s words, “a safe haven for sex traffickers” is on display in visit after visit.

“Injustice makes for life action.” That’s the most concise explanation for why Live Action exists, as Lila Rose, its founder and president, tells it. She describes Live Action as a “grassroots” organization of “youth leaders” who are driven by a desire to “defend the most defenseless.” Rose says, “Through the videos and investigations, we want to educate the public, to urge state authorities to enforce the law, and then encourage legislators to end taxpayer subsidies of Planned Parenthood.”

Most of the videos involve a pair of investigators, posing as a pimp and one of his “girls,” who visit a Planned Parenthood clinic to ask for advice on tests, contraception, and abortions. (A video released Thursday follows a slightly different scenario, with a lone madam making similar inquiries.) The videos have resulted in the firing of one Planned Parenthood clinic worker in New Jersey and have sent Planned Parenthood and its allies into attack mode. Despite the firing and the announcement that Planned Parenthood will be retraining staff, it still employs such workers as the woman in Virginia who advised Live Action’s investigators on the ease of obtaining a judicial pass for abortions for under-age girls, and the woman in the Bronx who advised that although identification would be required for services and financial aid, the pimp himself could write a letter that would serve as proof of employment because “they don’t even call you.” The latter also said that while they counsel the girls that they really shouldn’t be engaging in sexual activity within three weeks after an abortion, “I do have girls come in like three days later, asking me for the Plan B because they just couldn’t just stop or for whatever reason they just had to.”

This is only the latest exposé by Live Action. Their work has also revealed what Rose calls Planned Parenthood’s “abortion-first mentality,” which leads it to bypass state laws when faced with under-age girls. Live Action’s work has led to investigations in Indiana and Alabama and defunding in Tennessee. Last year, an Alabama Planned Parenthood clinic was put on probation after Live Action exposed its willingness to provide abortions to under-age girls.

“She is the Upton Sinclair of this generation,” Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, said on a webcast hosted by the Family Research Council. Talk-radio star Laura Ingraham said Rose is “doing the work that 60 Minutes used to do. She should really get a Pulitzer,” Ingraham says, both celebrating Rose’s undercover efforts and subtly criticizing the MIA media.

Rose herself, meanwhile, isn’t complaining about media bias or government funding of Planned Parenthood but is doing something about it: rallying pro-life activists and rattling the abortion industry and its advocates.

“I come from a wonderful, big family,” says Rose, who is one of eight children. “My parents taught us from a young age to respect and cherish all people’s lives. When I was 13, after learning more and more about abortion, I decided I had to do something about it.” She cites Nobel Peace Prize–winner Mother Teresa: “‘There is no greater destroyer of peace than abortion’ and no greater violence. When I was 15, I had started Live Action as a high-school pro-life group in my hometown, and it has been an adventure ever since to develop our strategies and work to reach more people with the truth.”

She doesn’t hide her ultimate goal: “My generation will be the generation to end abortion in our country,” she said last month in a speech at Georgetown University’s twelfth annual Cardinal O’Connor conference, marking the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

While Planned Parenthood hides behind euphemisms about women’s health, Lila Rose actually worries about “the second victim of abortion” as much as the defenseless unborn child. And she’s smart enough to see that this might open a window to common cause with people of good will in a country increasingly uncomfortable with abortion.

According to its mission statement, Live Action is “a youth-led movement dedicated to building a culture of life and ending abortion, the greatest human-rights injustice of our time. We use new media to educate the public about the humanity of the unborn and investigative journalism to expose threats against the vulnerable and defenseless.” Besides its use of the Internet, it also produces a print magazine, The Advocate, which it distributes to college campuses.

And now those infamous sting videos. Rose’s first undercover work was posing as a pregnant 13-year-old, with James O’Keefe, of ACORN-demolition fame, by her side. During that first investigation, Rose says, “I posed as pregnant and sat through two pro-abortion, extremely politically biased counseling sessions, then reported on them in the inaugural issue of The Advocate. I was told by the head nurse, ‘UCLA does not support women who are pregnant.’ This caused an uproar, and our pro-life group petitioned campus administrators to provide more support for pregnant students and to cease their biased pro-abortion counseling.”

To listen to Planned Parenthood and its apologists, such as the New York TimesGail Collins, Lila Rose is a reckless, attention-seeking extremist to be dismissed from credible conversation: a young beauty used by cunning pro-lifers as their frontbabe for their middle-aged oppressive instincts. Last week she headlined a press conference with Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) and pro-life women in the House of Representatives to highlight efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, but the timing of the release of the videos wasn’t the fruit of a vast pro-life conspiracy. The schedule for releasing the videos was “expedited,” she explains, by Planned Parenthood’s catching on to what they were doing. In a January 18 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Planned Parenthood tried to cover its tracks. It requested an investigation of possible sex-trafficking and, in the same breath, wondered whether the alleged pimp was a hoax. If he was, the letter said, then the government should condemn the “small, organized group of people, opposed to our mission, who have misrepresented their circumstances to gain access to our health centers.”

“I think there are two common responses to her work,” says Brigid Bower, the Georgetown senior who organized the conference in January: “One is to just be impressed that someone so young is doing what she can to help. The other thing is that she exposes people who are protecting rapists, pimps, human traffickers — not medical professionals with women’s interests at heart. I think anybody who cares about women can agree that no clinic should be helping a 25-year-old pimp cover up his 14-year-old victim’s pregnancy, and then enabling the abuse by providing birth-control pills.”

“She is a new breed of activist,” observes Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America (who has also done undercover work investigating Planned Parenthood). “She is building on the work and knowledge of a previous generation, smartly using modern technology, and tapping into society’s contempt for human-rights abusers.”

Explaining one secret of Rose’s success, Bower says, “I think my generation is so accustomed to being heard via social media that we are less likely to feel like we need a big budget before we go out and share our beliefs.” As more than one observer has commented to me, Lila Rose seems to get the Biblical injunction to be “shrewd as serpents.”

Agreeing with Yoest and Ingraham, one of Rose’s legal counsels, Tom Brejcha of the Thomas More Society, says: “What Lila Rose and Live Action have accomplished through their undercover videos is nothing more or less than what mainstream investigative journalists have done to uncover abuses in other businesses — meatpacking, slaughterhouses, and so forth. Live Action’s investigations have been carefully planned and researched and found to be in strict accordance with the applicable laws.”

Brejcha adds: “No one has been harmed by what they have been doing. On the contrary, serious abuses of federal and state law have been exposed, and the willingness of Planned Parenthood managers to cover up the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors fully exposed in all its sordid and ugly reality. That is why Planned Parenthood has been attacking Lila Rose and Live Action, as if its corruption could somehow be erased by aiming its vitriol at the whistle-blowers who caught them in these unguarded moments.”

“The best disinfectant is sunlight,” Brejcha adds, quoting the late Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis. “That’s precisely what Lila Rose and Live Action have brought to this corner of the shadowy world of sex trafficking: the light of day. Now it’s time for those entrusted with the enforcement of our laws designed to protect children against abuse to bring these malefactors to justice.”

The idea of being gentle as doves doesn’t seem to be lost on Rose either. The new convert to Catholicism was invited last year to speak at the New Year’s conference of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) in Orlando; in evaluations she was one of the highest-rated speakers. FOCUS brought her in for her new-media prowess, thinking that would inspire the young leaders there.

Jeremy Rivera, director of communications at FOCUS, observes a generation of pro-life leaders who are “learning, thinking, in touch with technology. They feel like they have the resources.” They’re also prone to self-evaluation, asking themselves, constantly: “How pro-life am I really?” He sees “a holistic willingness to sacrifice themselves” among young people like Rose. “They’re willing to make this movement cost them something to bring about the change they want.”

Despite reports from detractors that Rose aspires to be an actress, she’s got something else in mind: continuing to be “cheerfully working for life.” She seems to have that introspective view Rivera notes, and she is enthusiastic about the many young people she meets who share her convictions. She says, “Because abortion is the greatest human-rights abuse, it is a big focus. But I am interested in all culture-of-life issues — in defending the dignity of the human person and building strong, loving families that are open to new life. I also strongly believe in the power of art and media to transform our culture.”

Lila Rose is attempting to achieve what decades of activists and researchers and politicians haven’t yet managed, but she’s humbly building on their foundational work in defense of a basic right. The Lila Rose generation should inspire us all.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.