“I’d die to protect another human life,” Lila Rose tells me over chicken tenders and french fries. “I’m all in for this cause. Let me do whatever I can do, God, like, use me in whatever way.”
I’m a little taken aback because this is the first fanatical statement I’ve heard from Rose since I hopped into her Hyundai an hour before. I was prepared for extremism, given that Rose, the 24-year-old founder and CEO of Live Action, a “new media movement for life,” is infamous for orchestrating hidden camera sting operations into Planned Parenthood clinics across the country and once said she thought abortions should be performed in public so “we might hear angels singing as we ponder the glory of conception.” But the most controversial information I’ve gotten out of Rose so far is that she’s a “one glass of wine” kind of girl who loves yoga and U2 and does her rosary on the elliptical every morning. She’s also the type of girl whose idols are martyrs: Jesus Christ (“It’s hard to beat him. You can’t.”), his mother (“The most amazing woman of all time!”) and Joan of Arc come up repeatedly during our conversation, which is the first in-person interview she’s granted to a non-televised, left-leaning outlet.
Full disclosure: I’m a little jealous of Rose’s impossibly glossy hair and the self-assured way she pulls off her navy blue formfitting dress and surprisingly high heels. I feel like I’m back in my freshman year of college, eyeing the sorority girls in my dorm who always made me feel dowdy even though I made fun of them behind their backs. My instincts are correct: Rose was in Alpha Delta Pi during her first two years at UCLA, until she became too busy going undercover as a pregnant teenage victim of statutory rape to attend frat parties. Hannah, a fellow UCLA ‘10 graduate who remembers Rose as the “really pretty, incredibly nice” girl she met at a religious mixer her freshman year, said Rose ended up joining a Christian group on campus that attracted “wealthier white girls” and that she didn’t think about her until a few years later. “My friend was like, ‘Remember that beautiful girl? She’s doing terrible things to Planned Parenthood.’”
Lila Rose, whose very name seems to be made of milk and honey, was homeschooled during most of her childhood in San Jose. When Rose was nine, she happened across the Handbook on Abortion by Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Willke and was so shocked by the images inside that she soon decided abortion was “the greatest human rights injustice of our time” and became “radically committed” to the cause by starting a pro-life club at age 15, officially registering it as a charitable organization called Live Action only three years later. The non-profit, which recorded over $250,000 in grants and donations in 2010, aims to “reveal the truth” behind Planned Parenthood, “the biggest abortion chain in our country.” Live Action accomplishes this via heavily edited videos with ominous soundtracks that supporters consider nonpartisan investigative journalism — Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest once referred to Rose as an “modern day Upton Sinclair” — and which Planned Parenthood calls ”an astoundingly cynical form of political activity.”
It was during her freshman year at UCLA that Rose met James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who would later become infamous for producing videos that effectively destroyed ACORN and forced two top NPR executives to resign. He served as Rose’s mentor, helping her start a pro-life magazine (The Advocate, which now has a national circulation of over 200,000) and encouraging her to go undercover with him at Planned Parenthood as a fifteen year old girl with a twenty-three year old boyfriend. They deemed the sting a success when one employee encouraged them to “figure out a birth date that works.” (California has mandatory reporting laws for statutory rape.) “Underage girls are being targeted by predators, and Planned Parenthood is busy covering up the evidence,” Rose wrote in The Advocate at the time. “How many other rapes has this one clinic covered up?”
Live Action proved its ability to inflict real damage on the pro-choice movement in February 2011, when Rose sent actors portraying a pimp and a prostitute seeking abortions for underage sex workers into seven Planned Parenthood clinics in four states. The activists struck gold in New Jersey when one clinic staffer encouraged them to lie to avoid mandatory reporting laws. Although the incident was clearly an anomaly, the (quickly fired) staffer who advised Live Action’s actors to “just kind of play along that they’re students” to “make it look as legit as possible” helped motivate anti-choice politicians to support laws that would defund Planned Parenthood of all federal taxpayer subsidies. “Every American should be shocked that an employee of the largest recipient of federal funds under Title X has been recorded aiding and abetting underage sex trafficking,” Indiana Rep. Mike Pence said in a statement encouraging Congress to move sooner on a bill that would cut taxpayer funding for the organization. “The time to deny any and all funding to Planned Parenthood is now.”
Rose may only be an uncomfortable thorn in the pro-choice movement’s side, but she has an enormous influence on young conservatives, particularly young girls, many of whom regularly email Rose to ask how they can get involved in the movement before they even have their driver’s license. Live Action’s Facebook group has over 380,000 “Likes,” most of which are from teenagers between 13 and 17 years old. “Lila knows what she believes in, and she knows why, and she was very young when she figured it out,” says Kate Bryan, Live Action’s 27-year-old Communications Director. “There’s something very inspiring about that.”
Very inspiring indeed – and very different from the old, out-of-touch white male politicians who permeate the pro-life movement. “Young people are fired up because they are the first generation under threat of being legally aborted,” Bryan says, who pointed to Susan B. Anthony List, 40 Days for Life, and Personhood USA as examples of groups run by younger pro-lifers. “That’s why the pro-life movement has seen so many recent successes; more and more young people are standing up because they believe they’re survivors.” She believes that in five years, Live Action’s movement “will have permeated our society and made abortion unthinkable.”