Lila Rose: Creative Extremist Extraordinaire
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.” Three and a half decades later, a King-like spark lit the heart of a little California girl. Lila Rose became a pro-life activist at age nine, after seeing a picture of an aborted child in a book in her home. Now twenty-two years old, the recent graduate of UCLA and president of Live Action, a 501(c)(3) corporation, is courageously and creatively slinging one stone after another at abortion giant, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Live Action’s first project probed Planned Parenthood’s pervasive racism by calling clinics across the country. Team members called Planned Parenthood facilities offering donations with the stipulation that they be applied toward abortions of black children. No Planned Parenthood representative declined the funds or even expressed concern over the donor’s intentions. Next came the Mona Lisa Project, where Lila went inside clinics posing as a 13-year old girl, pregnant by a 30-something year-old man. In over 90% of the clinics investigated, Planned Parenthood staff, though required by law to report statutory rape and sexual abuse, suggested she lie about her age so a secret abortion could be obtained, violating the law and effectively returning a victim to her abuser. Most recently there was the Rosa Acuna Project, which exposed Planned Parenthood’s practice of giving false medical information about fetal development to prospective “customers.” As a result of Live Action’s efforts to date, Planned Parenthood has faced defunding or legal action in five states.
I caught up with Lila after she spoke to a group of students at a pro-life camp in Indiana.
How has your passion for unborn life developed?
When I was nine, I saw that image of the aborted child. That same year I became involved with a fundraiser for a community pregnancy center to raise money for an ultrasound machine. I spent a whole week going to the grocery store, flipping through the church directory, or calling up people instead of doing my math homework, trying to raise money for this ultrasound machine. I ended up out-raising the junior high and high school categories combined because I was so excited about it and I felt the sense of ownership that there was something I could do.
How did Live Action come about?
When I was about 14, I wrote in my diary, “It’s time to get to work and start that pro-life club.” And so I got a few friends together in my living room and we brainstormed. I went to every pro-life website I could find and got any information they had about how to start a group because there was no pro-life organization my area. The closest one I found was in Fresno, which was about three hours away. I got in touch with the leadership there, and one of the leaders drove up to San Jose to train us on how to give speeches. When I was fifteen, we gave our first presentation. We also went to our first abortion clinic, and things started to progress rapidly from there.
When you were a freshman at UCLA, Live Action launched its quarterly magazine, The Advocate. How did you pick that name?
It’s very simple and straightforward. It is advocating for the greatest issue of our day, speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves. It’s by students and it’s for students.
For the first issue, you went to the UCLA Health Center and told them you were pregnant. They offered you no option except abortion. Were you surprised in any way about that?
I suspected going in that I was going to be facing some liberal ideology of some kind, but I was very surprised when the head nurse counselor told me that pregnancy was embarrassing, that adoption was like giving away a present, and that there were two abortionists there to help me but that UCLA did not support women who were pregnant. Hearing these blunt answers from her did surprise me because it was just so absurd that this institution, which claims to support people in any lifestyle and choice, would be so adamantly pro-abortion and against the life of an unborn child.
In 2008, Live Action decided to go inside Planned Parenthood. Was that your idea?
No. It was not my idea. It’s been done for years in the pro-life movement, but it hadn’t been recorded. What we wanted to do was to build on the efforts done in the past in a new way by actually getting footage and presenting it as from youths.
What does it feel like to be inside one of those places?
It’s nerve-wracking, initially, to go in as an investigator because I really want it to go right, and I really want to represent my character well. But deeper than that, on a spiritual/emotional level, there’s a deep sense of grief. I know how close I am to this killing, and I know that I am powerless in that moment to do anything about it. I think that grief characterizes more than anything how I feel in a clinic.
Other than defunding and legal actions, what outcomes have you seen?
The outcome that I find the most encouraging is the effect on culture, and ultimately the effect on individual opinion. Also getting these stories into the news media – documenting how the abortion industry is a bad thing – is an incredibly good step for pro-lifers. We’re very thankful when that has happened.
Abortion is deeply entrenched in our culture. Other than Planned Parenthood, who’s threatened a lawsuit against you and posted your picture in their clinics, what forms of opposition have you encountered?
Our team and I have received some negative threats and some menacing voicemails. People have gotten my personal phone number or email. One time I was praying outside a clinic with a group of high school students, and one of the abortion patrollers recognized me. He came up to me and slapped my arm.
But I think the biggest enemy is discouragement from within the ranks. People within the ranks saying, “You shouldn’t be doing that,” or “It’s unethical to do investigative work,” or “It’s meaningless. You should do something else.” That’s why we have to continually practice the virtue of hope and be faithful in our work in our little garden of prolife-ness that we’re cultivating. That’s what I’ve learned over the past several years.
YouTube took issue with your videos.
YouTube has taken down some of our very important videos at horrible times with hardly any explanation. For instance, our Racism Project went viral on the internet and was linked to hundreds of blogs and news stories. During the Republican National Convention, when attention was diverted, YouTube took it down without any explanation. They have censored several of our videos that include only a minute, or even one image of abortion. They allow rape scenes, pornography, and very violent acts, but a video containing one image of abortion is censored. We’ve done petition drives and communicated with their leadership, but mostly to no avail.
Has anyone other than Planned Parenthood taken issue with the fact that you go in under false pretenses? David Schmidt, Live Action’s media director, said, “This is probably the most ethical way we can recreate what actually happens at abortion centers across the U.S.” How do you respond?
The vast majority of people are supportive and very kind, but there are some who get disgruntled about our tactics. I would say, there are a lot of cool stories in our tradition that have to do with undercover work and disguises. So I’m not affected by the criticisms.
You’re an international public figure now. What kind of effect has that had on you?
I think navigating attention – whether it’s from other people or the media or whomever – navigating attention as a woman in a society where that attention is often negative because it’s for the wrong reason, I’ve learned that if you pray, and you go before God where you’re nothing and he’s everything, and you ask him to inspire you and to do his will through you, then really all these other little attentions or issues fade away. I go to my mom for advice, and I go to my spiritual directors, and they keep me in line. And I just try to pray.
When you started Live Action, where did you think you would be in five years?
I had no idea when I first started doing pro-life work that I would do investigations, that I would get to speak internationally, or that I would get to work with some amazing and talented people across the country. I did not imagine any of those things. I didn’t plan them, certainly. So it’s just one big adventure after the next, taking another leap of faith and doing something new to build on the old, in order to reach our goal, which is to educate every person, 100%, about abortion and build a culture of life.
You said your generation is the post Roe v. Wade survivor generation.
It’s true, yes. But we’re not just the survivors, we’re the victors. We are survivors, but we’re going to be the victors.
You’re a recent college graduate. What’s next for you?
Well, a lot of projects are in motion right now. The hope is to continue with Live Action and to take a lot of our new media projects, our investigative projects, and our youth education programs to the next level, to reach every single young person with pro-life educational material, intersecting traditional education to get that pro-life information in there. We hope to investigate every working clinic and have a video about it that people in the community can see. Through God’s grace and provision that is what we plan to do. The sky’s the limit.
I can’t express enough how beautiful and how wonderful it is to be a part of the pro-life movement. Not only because it’s historical and exciting – we’re changing history and we’re changing lives – but because we get to stand up for the least of these, whom Christ instructed us to care for as we care for him. It’s my life’s calling. My life’s work is to end abortion and build a culture of life.
This article first appeared in Salvo 14, Fall 2010.