Lila Rose, a 20-year-old UCLA student, is taking on Planned Parenthood with phony stories, video equipment, and support from a host of Christian Right organizations.
She’s a 20-year-old UCLA history major steeped in conservative Christian politics, the president of Live Action Films, and a new face in the anti-abortion movement. She’s received training in communications from Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute, a long-time conservative educational foundation, and has the support of a high-powered Christian legal organization and a well-known Washington, DC-based conservative-oriented public relations firm. She was given the 2008 Person of the Year Malachi Award by Operation Rescue and received a $50,000 grant from a long-time anti-abortion philanthropist.
She recently organized the first-ever "Exposing Abortion" student conference at UC Berkeley, was attacked by columnist Bonnie Erbe, a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report and the host of PBS’s weekly news analysis program "To the Contrary with Bonnie Erbe," and defended by the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters.com.
Critics have called her devious, deceitful, and dishonest. Supporters say she is gutsy and a breath of fresh air who defies stereotyping.
Since 2006, Rose and a friend have been going into Planned Parenthood clinics. Rose pretends to be an under-age girl, as young as 13, who became pregnant by an older man and is seeking an abortion. They try to get a Planned Parenthood staff or volunteer to violate the law by telling the young girls to lie about the ages of their adult boyfriends. The videos, according to the Los Angeles Times, are then "boiled down to five minutes, with portentous music and fast cuts to heighten the drama" and are posted on Rose’s LiveAction.org website and YouTube. While Rose’s undercover "sting" videos posted on YouTube—surreptitious encounters at Planned Parenthood clinics in Indianapolis, Memphis, Los Angeles, Tucson—will never garner Susan Boyle-type numbers, her videos could very well have an effect on the fortunes of Planned Parenthood.
"There is this stereotype of who we pro-life leaders are, and for the most part it would be white middle-aged religious men trying to impose their will on women," said Reverend Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. "So now with Lila, you bring this young, fresh college student that completely blows any stereotypes away. No one is going to accuse Lila of being mean, vindictive and harsh."
Rose’s work "is an update of an old tactic invented by Mark Crutcher of the Denton, Texas-based group Life Dynamics," Frederick Clarkson, a long-time researcher into the anti-abortion movement, told me. "Crutcher waged a similar campaign for several years, and while his efforts were much ballyhooed in the conservative press, little ultimately came of it." Crutcher’s "efforts were, however, carried out over the telephone and the conversations were primarily with receptionists. Rose takes the effort farther. Video is far more compelling than recordings of phone calls," Clarkson added.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "Rose, the third of eight children, grew up in San Jose. Her father is an engineer for Sun Microsystems. She was home-schooled…and also attended a part-time Christian school and a junior college throughout high school." At 15, "she founded Live Action and began giving antiabortion presentations to schools and youth groups. Between 2006 and 2008, Rose attended four workshops at the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based educational foundation that teaches conservatives how to polish their communication skills. In fall 2006, when she was a UCLA first year student, she and fellow conservative activist James O’Keefe came up with the idea to infiltrate clinics."
Both Rose and O’Keefe acknowledged that they were inspired by Crutcher’s earlier work. O’Keefe was the founder of the Rutgers Centurian, a conservative magazine published at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. Its motto is "veritas vos liberabit," which is Latin for "the truth shall set you free." According to a May 2005 piece in Salon, the Leadership Institute "gave O’Keefe books on starting a publication, awarded him a $500 ‘Balance in Media Grant,’ and suggested never-fail places on campus to ferret out liberal excess."
Another of Rose’s comrades is a fellow named Philip Johnson, a U.S. Naval Academy alumnus who in a recent blog announcing a new video by Rose, pointed out that he is "the author of the blog In Caritate Non Ficta," and that he "help[s]…Rose with her pro-life apostolate Live Action Films and serve[s] as her Associate Editor for Live Action’s quarterly the Advocate." According to Johnson, the "publication exposes the horrors of abortion and its effects on women, and thousands of copies are distributed on college campuses throughout the country." At his Facebook page, Johnson lists His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Newt Gingrich, and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen as among those he is a "fan of."
There is no question that Rose’s work is having an impact. Earlier this year, Rose had posted, "Tennessee lawmakers said they would seek to end a $721,000 contract with Planned Parenthood, citing outrage over what they saw in a video," the Los Angeles Times reported. In July 2008, she "posed…as a 14-year-old impregnated by a 31-year-old; a Planned Parenthood staffer says, ‘Just say you have a boyfriend, 17 years old, whatever.’"
The Orange County Board of Supervisors also "voted to suspend a grant worth nearly $300,000 to Planned Parenthood that was earmarked for sex education, not abortions…[after] a conservative Tustin businessman raised the issue with Supervisor John Moorlach after meeting Rose and seeing her videos," the Times reported.
According to Clarkson, the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy and co-founder of the blog Talk2Action, "health workers trying to be compassionate and helpful towards a young person in trouble find themselves in a tricky situation; exploited in order to produce antiabortion propaganda." Clarkson pointed out that, "In the previous campaign, activists tried, with little success, to get district attorneys to investigate. No charges were ever brought anywhere in the U.S. Law enforcement came to understand that the entire enterprise was a political publicity stunt. However, the new effort is to demagogue the issue to get states and localities to terminate grants and contracts to Planned Parenthood, and this has apparently already met with some success."
Over the past few years, Rose has not only received considerable publicity from anti-abortion media outlets, she now has been surrounded by a veteran group of conservative supporters. Last September she was a featured speaker at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, where she told the audience: "When I walk into Planned Parenthoods across the country, I am flattered to see my picture on the wall. It is because to Planned Parenthood, I am—quote—a ‘known anti-choice extremist.’ This is one of the better compliments I have received."
The Times also reported that David French, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, "gave her free advice when Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles threatened action and appeared at her side during an interview with conservative TV talk-show host Bill O’Reilly." She is also receiving support from the Washington, DC-based CRC Public Relations, a firm "that represents conservative clients and had a hand in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign that targeted Democrat John F. Kerry during the 2004 presidential race."
Although she was hesitant to talk to the Times about the funding of Live Action Films, earlier this year she received $50,000 as a winner of the Gerard Health Foundation’s inaugural Life Prizes awards. The Gerard Health Foundation is a Massachusetts-based charity founded by Raymond Ruddy, a Catholic businessperson who funds antiabortion and abstinence-only sex education efforts.
In the press release announcing the award, she was cited for "Her brave work…reveal[ing] the new evidence necessary to build strong cases against the abortion industry, and her creativity in using the media to document Planned Parenthood’s abuses has educated and mobilized youth across the country and gained the attention of the national media."
Cathy Ruse, executive director of Life Prizes, said that Rose "is the perfect example of why veterans in the pro-life movement should have great hope in the future. She has brought a boldness, creativity, and passion to the pro-life cause that is causing the country to take notice. We look forward to all that is to come from this brilliant young woman."
Ruddy is also the vice chair of the board of directors of Maximus, Inc., a giant services provider that pioneered welfare privatization and has for years contributed to a number of "culture war" causes and conservative political candidates
OneNewsNow, a news service sponsored by Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, has reported that Ruddy has been "leading the call for a federal investigation of Planned Parenthood claiming that the organization ‘may have fraudulently charged the federal government millions of dollars.’"
The National Coalition to Defeat Planned Parenthood has gone further, aiming to completely eliminate federal and state funding for the group, in addition to other actions. "In the past, there have been many local and statewide efforts to thwart Planned Parenthood, but what makes the National Coalition to Defeat Planned Parenthood special is that for the first time, the major pro-life groups around the country are coming together to implement a unified national action," said Eric Scheidler, communications director for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, the group spearheading the coalition.
Rose’s efforts are "unfair of course, because no actual crimes have been committed, and it is entirely for propaganda purposes," Clarkson noted. "We can contrast this with the actual sex crimes committed by Catholic priests against children. No one has demanded that the government end grants and contracts with Catholic agencies such as Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Charities over this.
"In addition, surveys show that Planned Parenthood has an excellent reputation. This is problematic for the anti-abortion cause, and so there have been attacks over many years to damage Planned Parenthood’s public image, and I fully expect them to continue."