Lila Rose is the 22-year-old founder of Live Action, an organisation that collects intelligence on America’s leading abortion provider and brings it to the world’s attention through the new media. Last week she generated global headlines when she released undercover video footage of staff at Planned Parenthood giving advice to a man posing as a pimp seeking abortions for under-age prostitutes.
Lila is from San Jose, California, and recently graduated from UCLA with a degree in history. She has Italian, Irish and English blood and was brought up as one of eight children in an Evangelical household. She was received into the Catholic Church two years ago. In an interview this week she tells me that she was drawn to the Catholic Church because she “hungered to receive Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist”.
Since starting Live Action at 15 Lila has been a revolutionary pro-life campaigner. To begin with, she went into various abortion clinics posing as a young teen with a story about a 31-year-old boyfriend who had got her pregnant. She used police camera equipment to film clinic workers explaining how she could hide the abortion from her parents, as long as she got someone else with the same surname to sign the papers. They were eager to ensure that the father of the baby would not face the consequences.
With her beautiful heart-shaped face and lustrous black hair Lila could be a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, but she is also someone of incredible savvy. James O’Keefe, the young conservative media activist who has collaborated with Lila in her exposés, says: “What Lila has been able to do is frame the issue of abortion through the lens of social issues that both liberals and conservatives can agree on. Everyone can agree that it’s wrong to help pimps out and to cover up statutory rape.”
Commenting on the impact of her shocking undercover films, Lila says: “People who were supportive of Planned Parenthood have become disgusted.”
But she emphasises that “this project is only half way through” and that Live Action hopes to release other films this year which give an inside view of what goes on in American’s abortion clinics.
Live Action’s work has caused several states to launch investigations into Planned Parenthood. The organisation is clearly rattled. Last week the billionaire George Soros reportedly held a conference call with Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, about how to counter the videos. On Monday the group said it would retrain thousands of members of staff regarding its rules for reporting possible dangers to minors and would sack anyone who violated them.
But Lila says that the testimonies of women who have had abortions corroborate what she has found through her undercover investigations. She told the New York Times this week that the changes announced by Planned Parenthood were “window dressing”.
“Live Action’s investigation has uncovered a serious, institutional crisis in which Planned Parenthood is willing to aid and abet sex trafficking and exploitation of minors and young women,” she said. Lila’s work has even more credibility in the wake of the testimony of Abby Johnson. She was a director at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas and has criticised her former role there as one of the “salespeople” for abortion. She has said that Planned Parenthood should be grateful to Live Action for bringing the deeds of its staff to the public’s attention.
Activists in Britain are naturally considering whether Live Action’s tactics would further the pro-life cause here. If abortion clinics in our country were caught out would it cause pregnant women to lose all trust in abortion providers and prevent abortions?
Mark Bhagwandin, an education officer with Life Pregnancy Care, thinks it might be effective.
“We must expose the clinics in Britain as acting in a commercial interest, not in the interests of women,” he says.
He argues that this is the “missing component” of pro-life work in Britain. But he explains that it has to work in tandem with proper pro-life help for pregnant mothers.
“A lot of women going for abortions are in a personal crisis,” he says. “If they are offered practical alternatives then they may keep their baby. We have found women in crisis pregnancies who really need to confide in someone and are considering abortion but have changed their minds after a chance of being able to come to terms with their pregnancy.”
Would videos exposing the clinics help some women out of the vicious cycle of repeat abortions? Many women of all ages who have had abortions have spoken to Lila and told her that the videos showed them “the truth”, that they helped them to find healing and that they are now pro-life.
Live Action’s work is being warmly welcomed by the gigantic pro-life population in America. But could a British Lila Rose count on such support here?
David Quinn, a seasoned pro-life commentator and director of the Iona Institute, says: “There are sections of the media that would not like pro-life stings one bit, and they may react by saying undercover journalism is unethical. But you can’t allow the possibility of a backlash from the pro-choicers to veto your actions.”
Mark Bhagwandin argues that “investigative journalism that exposes the abuses in abortion clinics will go down well with the British people”.
“The British love the truth,” he says. “They respect any operation that exposes the truth.”
Last year he and his colleagues at Life presented the the pro-life message to 35,000 school students. He says he encountered a very positive reaction from young people.
Lila Rose strives to make known the “abortion-first mentality” of clinics. Is there
any evidence of an abortion-only attitude from abortion providers here? I decided to find out. I rang one of Britain’s abortion providers posing as someone who was 23 weeks pregnant. I told them that I needed “help”. I never said that I wanted an abortion. The only “help” they would give me was a speedy abortion.
“That’s what we do,” one worker told me curtly. “We arrange terminations.” So much for “choice”.
I rang another British abortion provider and told them several times that someone was pressurising me into an abortion and that I didn’t want an abortion. They increased my anxiety by saying that I didn’t have much time left and would have to arrange it “soon”. I asked what other options of help they offered besides abortion. I was passed to a smooth-talking adviser who told me the price of the “treatment” and told me that I had less than a week to arrange it.
How many mothers would keep their baby if they were given real choice? Lila says she would not like to recommend any particular project for Britain. She openly admits that she does not know enough about our legal and political climate. But when I tell her about how I had been treated when I posed as a woman who was 23 weeks pregnant, she suggests an interesting plan.
“Consider that many women are at this moment going for that ‘counselling’ in British clinics, and they are not being told about the risks, or what abortion will do to their child,” she tells me. “If you were to get footage of inside the clinic of the kind of things that are said during this ‘counselling session’, then you could compare this with the actual statistics and facts of what happens during and after an abortion.”
If we go around pretending to be pregnant women in difficulty, will the public think of pro-lifers as attention-seeking performers? Lila Rose has taken that chance. But she insists that the risk is worthwhile.
“Public opinion of pro-lifers comes and goes,” she says. “But it’s our job as pro-lifers to be strong and sincere, kind but unwavering in our defence of the truth. When you educate young people you will see a cultural shift.”