Abortion foe goes undercover
The girl’s voice in the videotape is tiny and tentative. She is talking to a nursing aide in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bloomington, Ind. The girl wants an abortion.
The aide explains that the girl will need a parent’s consent because she is only 13.
The girl balks; she does not want to name the father.
“Cause, I mean, he would be in really big trouble,” says the girl. Her boyfriend, she explains, is 31.
The aide drops her head into her hands.
“In the state of Indiana,” says the aide, “when anyone has had intercourse and they are age 13 or younger . . . it has to be reported to Child Protective Services.”
There is a 60-second gap in the tape, according to the running timer on the video. What happens next is meant to be explosive.
“OK,” says the aide, “I didn’t hear the age. I don’t want to know the age. It could be reported as rape. And that’s child abuse.”
“So if I just say I don’t know who the father was, but he’s one of the guys at school or something?” asks the girl.
“Right,” says the aide, who has just stepped into a carefully laid trap.
As it happens, the boyfriend does not exist. The girl is not pregnant. Nor is she 13.
She is Lila Rose, a 20-year-old UCLA history major with a little voice and a bold plan to expose what she and many abortion foes see as Planned Parenthood’s wrongdoings.
Since 2006, Rose has orchestrated undercover “stings” at Planned Parenthood clinics in Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Tucson, Phoenix and Memphis.
Surreptitiously videotaping their interactions, she and a friend have posed as abortion-seeking teens impregnated by older men. The videos -- boiled down to five minutes, with portentous music and fast cuts to heighten the drama -- are posted on Rose’s website, LiveAction.org, and YouTube.
Rose’s strategy -- accusing Planned Parenthood of failing to report suspected statutory rapes -- is not a new one in the antiabortion trenches. But the new-media twist on the idea has put her front and center of a new generation.
“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 the Rev. 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 goal is to undermine legal abortion by showing that Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the country, abets sexual exploitation by counseling pregnant minors to lie about the ages of their adult boyfriends.
Planned Parenthood officials strenuously deny the charge. Protecting minors is a crucial part of their mission, they say, but with 30,000 employees and volunteers and 850 clinics, they say, mistakes are inevitable.
Abortion is not likely to be outlawed any time soon, but Rose’s work is having an impact, particularly on a local level, where abortion foes are increasingly focusing their efforts.
On Wednesday, Tennessee lawmakers said they would seek to end a $721,000 contract with Planned Parenthood, citing outrage over what they saw in a video Rose had posted two days earlier from a Memphis clinic. She posed there in July 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.”
Last month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend a grant worth nearly $300,000 to Planned Parenthood that was earmarked for sex education, not abortions. A conservative Tustin businessman raised the issue with Supervisor John Moorlach after meeting Rose and seeing her videos.
Last year, after the Indiana videos were posted on Rose’s website, Bloomington’s Herald Times reported that the nurse’s aide seen on the tape had been fired. A second Planned Parenthood staffer, in Indianapolis, resigned: Rose’s tape appeared to show that employee directing the young woman across the state line to a clinic in Illinois, which doesn’t have a parental consent law.
A grand jury is investigating whether Planned Parenthood violated the law, said Mario Massillamany, a spokesman for the prosecutor of Marion County, where Indianapolis is located. “After we stated we were conducting an investigation, they hired a group to conduct better training for their staff,” he added.
Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said it is a violation of the organization’s policy to tell a young woman to lie about the age of a father. The well-being of patients, she said, is paramount. “And that means making sure that we are complying with minor-abuse reporting requirements.”
Rose, she added, has refused to show Planned Parenthood her unedited tapes, so “it’s very difficult for us to know what happened.”
Rose said the full, 48-minute video of her encounter in Indianapolis is available at her website.
The conversation in the uncut version is more nuanced than the edited five-minute version, and includes a staffer stating emphatically, “We have to follow the laws,” and another urging Rose to tell her mother about the pregnancy.
“I should also note that every time we release footage from a new clinic,” said Rose in an e-mail, “we send complete copies of the footage to various state authorities, including the attorney general.”
For this story, Rose would answer questions only by e-mail. When contacted in December, she agreed to meet a reporter the next day but canceled, citing schoolwork, and refused to reschedule. She was subsequently advised by a publicist to communicate only in writing.
She did not answer a question about who funds her work, saying only that she operates “on a very low budget” and uses “mostly student volunteers.” Federal tax records for Live Action Films, created in 2008, are not yet available.
Planned Parenthood is treading carefully with Rose. Though the organization does not want to be seen as engaging in a David vs. Goliath struggle with a college student -- albeit one with stellar connections -- it has not ignored her.
In May 2007, Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles accused Rose of breaking state privacy laws when she secretly taped her interactions. It demanded she remove the videos from her website, which she did, though they are still easily found on YouTube.(Arizona, Indiana and Tennessee, where she went next, have less restrictive privacy laws.)
For Rose, the threat was a badge of honor: “They are on the lookout for me,” she told an audience of conservative Christian activists at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in Washington in September. “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.”
In February, she was awarded $50,000 from the Gerard Health Foundation, a Massachusetts-based charity founded by a Catholic businessman that funds antiabortion and abstinence-only sex education efforts.
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 also receives guidance from CRC Public Relations, a Washington-area 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.
Rose, the third of eight children, grew up in San Jose. Her father is an engineer for Sun Microsystems. She was home-schooled, she wrote in an e-mail, and also attended a part-time Christian school and a junior college throughout high school. When she was 15, she said, 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 freshman, she and fellow conservative activist James O’Keefe came up with the idea to infiltrate clinics.
Rose, by e-mail, and O’Keefe, in a phone interview, said they were inspired by the work of Mark Crutcher, a Texas antiabortion activist who in 2002 taped fake calls to hundreds of Planned Parenthood clinics around the country featuring women posing as pregnant minors.
They also found an unlikely source of inspiration: “Rules for Radicals,” a handbook on grass-roots organizing by Saul Alinsky, a legendary left-wing activist who was an inspiration to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Among Alinsky’s most famous admonitions is one that O’Keefe said he and Rose took to heart: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
O’Keefe, 24, said he and Rose have received criticism from some of their associates for using deception. “It’s a pretty complicated ethical issue,” he said, “but we believe there is a genocide and nobody cares, and you can use these tactics and it’s justified.”
Rose and O’Keefe visited their first clinic -- UCLA’s Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center -- in 2006. They videotaped an employee telling them “some pretty bad things,” said O’Keefe, including that the fetus is a collection of cells. “That’s what set us in motion.”
“The videos,” O’Keefe added, “are not supposed to necessarily show people breaking laws. They are supposed to change hearts and minds.”
That’s precisely the effect Rose’s work had on Mark Bucher, the Tustin businessman who sent the videos to Orange County supervisors.
“I have never gotten riled up about Planned Parenthood getting taxpayer money to do abortions,” Bucher said. “I got riled up when I saw that this organization doesn’t care about their legal obligation to make sure some 13-year-old girl isn’t going to be molested by a 31-year-old man anymore. No matter where you stand on the abortion issue, that ought to bother you.”