Lila Rose: The New Darling of Anti-Choice Right-Wingers
he’s a committed and politically savvy 20-year-old UCLA history major who, posing as a much younger girl, goes into clinics asking for help with an unwanted pregnancy -- and films the results in the form of an exposé and posts them online.
Meet Lila Rose, president of Live Action Films and the new face of the anti-choice movement.
Steeped in conservative Christian politics, Rose has already benefited from the generous assistance of powerful players like communications firm The Leadership Institute, a high-powered conservative Christian legal organization, and a well-known DC-based Public Relations firm. She was the recipient of Operation Rescue’s 2008 Person of the Year Malachi Award, and her campaign at UCLA to urge administrators to cut ties with Planned Parenthood received the endorsement of Dr. Alveda King, the ultra-conservative niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Fresh from organizing the first-ever “Exposing Abortion” student conference at UC Berkeley, and from being dressed down by U.S. News & World Report columnist Bonnie Erbe, Rose launched a pro-life magazine at UCLA called, ironically, The Advocate. She appears regularly on talk radio programs and cable news shows, including a recent visit with Glenn Beck on Fox.
Critics have called her devious, deceitful, and dishonest. Supporters say she’s a breath of fresh air; a gutsy player who defies stereotyping.
She’s passionate, persuasive, ready for prime time, and she has Planned Parenthood in her sights.
Smile, You’re on “Live” TV
While Rose’s undercover “sting” videos posted on YouTube (surreptitious encounters at Planned Parenthood clinics in Indianapolis, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Tucson) will never garner Susan Boyle-type numbers, her videos could still have an effect on the fortunes of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a national provider of a wide array of sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion.
Since 2006, Rose and a friend have been approaching Planned Parenthood clinics pretending to be underage girls, pregnant by older men, seeking an abortion. Their aim: to catch a Planned Parenthood staffer or volunteer violating the law by counseling 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 posted both to Rose’s LiveAction.org Web site and YouTube.
“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.”
New Media Twist on an Old Strategy
“Rose’s strategy -- accusing Planned Parenthood of failing to report suspected statutory rapes -- is not a new one in the anti-abortion trenches,” the Times reported. “But the new-media twist on the idea has put her front and center of a new generation.”
“Efforts to strip funding from Planned Parenthood,” notes Amie Newman, managing editor of RH Reality Check, “are actually just a continuation of massive anti-choice campaigns against contraception, family planning, annual exams and pap smears, STI checks for low income women (and men!). It's stunning, really, to wage a campaign against PPFA as they are the most well known reproductive health provider.”
Indeed, Rose’s work “is an update of an old tactic invented by Mark Crutcher of the Denton, Texas-based group Life Dynamics,” adds Frederick Clarkson, a longtime researcher of the anti-choice movement.
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.
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. When she was 15, she said, she founded Live Action and began giving anti-abortion 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. The Times continues:
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.
Both Rose and O’Keefe acknowledged that they were inspired by the earlier work of Crutcher. O’Keefe is the founder of The Rutgers Centurian, a conservative magazine published at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. 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.”
Is it Working?
There is no question that Rose’s work is having an impact. Back in April, Tennessee lawmakers sought to end a $721,000 contract with Planned Parenthood, according to the Times, “citing outrage over what they saw in a video Rose had recently posted.” In July, she once again “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,” according to the Times. The grant was ultimately reinstated though the board “created a new policy that will make it more difficult for Planned Parenthood and some other community clinics to qualify for the grant in the future.”
On the other hand, according to Diane Quest, PPFA’s Director of Media Relations, “Attempts to strip Planned Parenthood of funding have been relatively unsuccessful because elected officials know preventive care is good public policy.” Quest told RD that:
In this economic downturn, more and more Americans are in need of quality, affordable health care, straining the health care safety net system even more. Planned Parenthood health centers provide health care services to more than three million people a year and 97% of those services are preventive, including wellness exams, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and birth control. (italics added)
Support from the Old Guard
Over the past few years Rose has not only received considerable publicity from anti-choice 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, the group she created in 2008 (Federal tax records are not yet available) 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 businessman who funds anti-choice 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 [which] 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.”
It is certainly true that with her media savvy and financial support from veteran culture warriors, Lila Rose may well play an important role in the fight for -- or in this case, against -- women’s reproductive rights.