A fighter’s life
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 29:
Anti-abortion protesters gather for this year’s March for Life rally on January 29, 2021 in Washington, DC, at Planned Parenthood of DC, where abortions are performed. The March for Life, which brings many thousands to Washington every year to challenge the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, to protest, is going virtual this year due to the pandemic and safety concerns.
Fight for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World, by Lila Rose (Thomas Nelson: 2021), 240 pages.
Lila Rose was 15 years old when she founded the pro-life organization Live Action in her parents’ home in California. She was an 18-year-old freshman at UCLA when she conducted her first major undercover investigation into the abortion industry. 19 gained not-for-profit status when live action; 21 when she was giving her first congressional briefing; and 22 when she raised her first million dollars. At the age of 23, she held her first press conference in Congress. At 32, Rose leads one of America’s largest pro-life groups, a global leader in digital pro-life education with 1.3 billion video views. All of that is to say that your new book, Fight for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded Worldis worth reading.
I’ve read most of the memoirs written by pro-life activists, and Rose’s book is one of a kind. She shares her struggles with depression, eating disorders, self harm, and thoughts of suicide; shows how difficult it has been to act as a Millennial Pro-Life Leader in the DC bubble; and discusses the unwanted romantic attention and even stalking that accompanied her growing national profile. She talks about the mental illness crises her family has suffered, their embarrassing mistakes as a leader who is hard to adjust in Washington DC, and the difficulty of building a staff and running an organization as someone younger than many of those who worked for them. Fight for life is a merging of genres: biography, motivation and maybe even a little bit of self-help for aspiring activists.
When I asked Rose why she decided to share so much, she told me that some of her friends had asked her the same thing while reading the first draft, but that she wanted the book to be useful to people. She sure did it – and it’s a fascinating story.
Rose’s journey into the pro-life movement is similar to that of many other leaders. As a child, she found a copy of Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Wilkes 1971 Abortion Guide on her parents’ shelf and opened it. “I was staring at the photo of a tiny baby with tiny arms and legs separated from a tiny body.” She was stunned to discover that the carnage was legal. She began looking for more information and found a newsletter on the National Right to Life (her parents were subscribers) that contained diagrams of partial abortion. The images broke her heart and spurred her to action. She volunteered with her grandmother at the local crisis pregnancy center. She prayed outside an abortion clinic in San Jose. She raised funds for an ultrasound machine. She started Live Action at the age of 15 because there was no other pro-life group devoted to youth education in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Live action began by hosting presentations, and when Rose left for UCLA – chosen because her 40,000 students would provide a fertile foundation for her pro-life mission – the group became Live Action UCLA. Rose was doing the usual pro-life things – holding meetings, bringing up speakers, and writing for the campus newspaper – when she attended a Leadership Institute (LI) workshop and met investigative filmmaker James O’Keefe. She told him she was looking for ideas and O’Keefe suggested they investigate the UCLA health center. The two posed as a pregnant student and her friend and asked the nurse what options were available. The nurse advised against adoption and encouraged abortion. With a $ 1,000 grant from LI, she started a magazine called The Advocateand published the story under the title “Where Have All the Pregnant Women Gone?”
The story sparked a conversation on campus, and Rose began researching the history and tactics of undercover journalism. She was linked to Life Dynamics’ Texan activist Mark Crutcher, who hired a young woman in 2000 to pose as a thirteen-year-old girl and call over 800 planned parenting clinics across the country. Everyone was happy to give the investigator an abortion or referral. Rose and O’Keefe decided to repeat the sting on planned parenting in Santa Monica, with Rose posing as a fifteen-year-old impregnated by a twenty-three year old. California law requires healthcare workers to report suspected sexual abuse of minors. Instead, the planned parenting counselor advised her to tell her she was 16 years old. “Find a birthday that works,” said the counselor, “and I don’t know anything.” The two repeated the sting the following day at an LA clinic and uploaded the video to YouTube. 20,000 views were collected overnight. The L.A. CEO of Planned Parenthood emailed her threatening thousands of fines. She recalls staring at her screen and realizing the power of independent journalism: a billion dollar company was scared of her videos.
Live action started from there. Rose began fundraising and planned an overland trip to examine clinics during her summer break. She bleached her hair and got glasses so that she would not be recognized – until then, the clinics for planned parenting had put up her photo. She practiced speaking like a young girl and bought disguises. She and her friends studied the clinics meticulously; practiced her lines; worked on hiding the cameras and sewing them into clothes and purses; charged the batteries. One clinic after another, Planned Parenthood staff were happy to sell an abortion to someone who introduced themselves as a minor. The abortion industry issued rejections; In many cases, the mainstream media covered them, insisting that the videos be “deceptively edited” instead of dealing with what the footage actually represented.
For the next several years, live action would send investigators to the United States to expose the corruption, lies, and slaughter of the abortion industry. Investigators caught staff who lied about the development of the fetus and found they were ready to help and support sex traffickers. A New Jersey agent even advised an investigator posing as a pimp that girls should not have intercourse for two weeks after the abortions, but that he could always use them on the “waist up” body. In Virginia, a Planned Parenthood representative gave advice on how to circumvent parental consent laws. Planned parenting reeled and denied and fired the worst offenders. They defused a dozen states anyway. In 2015, the House of Representatives voted to devalue proposed parenting, and Live Action opened a DC office to pursue the goal of making the discharge a reality.
Together with investigators, Rose recruited a team capable of fundraising, producing videos, activating the grassroots, reaching out to social media and writing. Her idealism soon caught the caution and apathy of many DC insiders, but annual research into gender-selective abortion and even infanticide fueled the conversation. She became a pro-life celebrity, flying around the country and around the world, writing about the deep loneliness she often felt as she struggled to make friends with people her age outside the DC pro-life and conservatives Find bubble. Understandably, she wrestled with fear. The details that Rose provides in Fight for life are deeply humanizing, and I suspect that many outside of the pro-life movement would find their memoirs worthwhile for precisely that reason.
One of the most interesting chapters is “Learn to Pivot,” in which Rose explains why Live Action has expanded its activities from lobbying and undercover work to the culture-changing digital activism and video that they now focus much of their energy on. When David Daleiden, who was involved in many live-action investigations, spread the news that the abortion industry had to do with baby body parts in 2015, his exposé sent shock waves across the political establishment, and even Hillary Clinton called the videos “disturbing” Moment without a script. For a moment it seemed like the abortion giant was wavering. But then California Attorney General Kamala Harris followed up on Daleiden, the legal Planned Parenthood army stepped into action, and a storm of smoke and mirrors started the cover-up. As Rose watched the abortion industry absorb that body blow and hold on to federal funding, she realized that a focus on culture was also essential.
Rose has since been married, had a son, and moved back to Los Angeles, where she continues to serve as President of Live Action (which still has a DC office). In a conversation earlier this week, she told me that Big Tech, to put an end to the digital activism of live action, will just be filmed again. Ending abortion, she says, is the cause that runs her life, and there is nothing industry, politicians or the press can do or say to stop this work. Fight for life is the story of passion that drives not only Lila Rose, but generations of activists who have saved countless lives. Her story is about what a young woman achieved when she accepted the burden of fighting an extraordinarily cruel injustice. You will wonder what else you could do.
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His comment appeared in National reviewThe European Conservative, the National Post and elsewhere. Jonathon is the author of The culture war and Seeing Is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face Abortion Victims as well as being co-author with Blaise Alleyne from A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide.