Lila Rose walked into the Santa Monica Planned Parenthood, heart hammering. She was wearing flip-flops and an old T-shirt. A camcorder was buried inside her purse.
Stepping out of the elevator, she saw six women sitting in the reception area, waiting for their appointments-waiting to extinguish a life. Lila stared at their faces, weight pressing on her heart-these women carried two lives. Soon, that second life would be gone.
The green wall behind them featured an elegant mural with the word Esperanza (meaning "hope") flourished across it. Rose thought, "This must be the most hopeless place in Santa Monica."
When her turn came, Rose told the Planned Parenthood staffer she was 15 years old and impregnated by her 23-year-old boyfriend.
But in reality, Rose is a passionate pro-life advocate, a Christian, and a former homeschooled debater whose passion for the pro-life movement began when she was 9 years old. One day, she found a little book in her living room, John Willke's Handbook on Abortion. Its cover bore the image of a somber woman with haunting eyes. Rose opened the book and saw a creased page in the middle displaying images of aborted babies. She saw their tiny hands and feet.
Horrified, Rose pushed the book away. But something pulled at her to open it again, and she began to read. She read that 4,000 babies were aborted every day. It was unreal to her 9-year-old mind that anyone could deliberately kill a baby. A frightening world opened up to her: Young, innocent lives were not safe.
Rose was the third-oldest child, sandwiched between five boys, in a family where life was always treasured. As a high-school student, she participated in debate and researched human-rights issues. She traveled to Mexico at age 14 on a house-building mission trip. During the next two years she also traveled to Morocco and organized a benefit for Nigerian famine victims.
But her heart was constantly drawn back to those tiny hands and feet-to the defenseless unborn. In every country she visited, the thought tugged: "Children down the street from my house will never have a chance to live." At age 15, Rose began to focus her work on fighting abortion. She founded the organization Live Action in her living room.
Live Action focuses on reaching young adults and helping them overcome the "stifling din" of pro-abortion marketing. Rose and her comrades began giving Power Point presentations in schools and churches-but the work was lonely. Rose remembers a time when no one showed up for a Live Action meeting. Discouraged, she turned to her mom and asked, "What am I doing wrong? Do they not care?"
"Leadership is lonely," her mother replied. "You have to forge the path, and people will follow." Rose struggled with the desire to please others, to fit in, to have friends. But the more time she dedicated to fighting abortion, the more these worries dwindled. She became consumed in the work before her.
By the time Rose enrolled in UCLA, her new organization was gaining traction throughout California. During the first quarter of her freshman year she began undercover work. She wanted to find out what the UCLA Student Health Center was telling young women about abortion, so she walked into the center with a voice recorder in her blouse.
Rose sat down with the head nurse and told her that she was pregnant and wanted to keep the baby. The nurse told Rose matter-of-factly that UCLA would not help pregnant women, but two abortionists were on call. If Rose continued her pregnancy, the nurse reasoned, she would have to make embarrassing bathroom trips during class.
The nurse also told Rose that the health center could get her a state paid-for abortion so that her parents would never have to know. Appalled by the nurse's coercive demeanor, Rose thought to herself, "This is the farthest thing from real choice." She produced a video and audio exposé using the material.
Rose organized her first investigation of Planned Parenthood only a short while later. It was more intense and frightening for the 19-year-old freshman. When Rose claimed to be 15, the staffer suggested that Rose change her birthdate on the paperwork so that her boyfriend would not get in trouble.
Rose visited a second Planned Parenthood that day. The manager of the clinic told Rose that she had gotten pregnant at a young age as well. "If I could do it again," the manager said, her voice firm and reassuring, "I would not continue the pregnancy." She said her son is now 16 years old.
Rose put the undercover videos on YouTube, and Planned Parenthood threatened to sue her for $5,000 for each offense and bring to bear other civil and legal penalties. She remembers sitting in her college dorm room, reading the threat from Planned Parenthood, and thinking in complete shock, "I don't even have $200 in my bank account."
But Planned Parenthood's threats only garnered more attention for Rose's investigation. Thousands around the United States watched the videos. Bill O'Reilly interviewed Rose, and soon Fox and CBS ran stories on the investigation. Planned Parenthood never sued Rose but tried to prevent her from conducting any other investigations by posting her picture in many of their clinics.
While many Christians applauded Rose's work, others expressed concern about the deception inherent in her investigative work. In the Witherspoon Institute's journal Public Discourse, Christopher Tollefson argued that Live Action's work could compromise the pro-life movement by using falsehood: "The way in which Live Action has made its mark is itself extremely troubling, for it is predicated on a form of falsity."
Princeton professor Robert George wrote that Live Action's well-intentioned work should not use deception: "What we fight for is just and true, and truth-in its unparalleled splendor and luminosity-is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal." Boston College professor Peter Kreeft, though, argued that if Live Action is wrong, so is spying, "including spying out the Nazis' atomic bomb projects and saving the world from a nuclear holocaust."
Rose contends that undercover work is chronicled throughout the Bible. She points to Rahab and the Israelite spies, and to the Hebrew midwives who protected innocents by lying to Pharaoh, as examples of those who lied for a worthy cause. When considering these examples, as well as the urgency of the cause, Rose has no moral qualms with undercover work.
One summer Rose purchased police-quality equipment and ran a multi-level investigation throughout Indiana, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. In order to disguise herself, Rose spent three hours at a salon, steeping her dark brunette hair in bleach.
She walked into the Planned Parenthood in flip-flops, glasses, and Hannah Montana clothing, trying to disguise herself as a 13-year-old. While she was sitting in the waiting room, two women walked in. They were sisters; one woman was pregnant, and the other had brought her two children. While the two sisters talked, the little girl and her brother played with toys on the floor.
Rose turned to the pregnant woman and asked, "What are you here for?"
"An abortion," she replied.
Rose asked, "Why don't we just leave, and go talk to those people outside?" (Sidewalk counselors stood outside the clinic.)
"Stop talking to me," the woman said, staring at the ground.
At that moment, the little girl dropped her toys and walked over to her aunt. She jumped up on her aunt's lap and cuddled close to her abdomen. Two cousins were separated by inches of flesh.
Rose stared at the little girl and remembered Mary and Elizabeth's meeting while pregnant with Jesus and John the Baptist. Both women faced unexpected pregnancies, but both embraced their babies with joy and thanksgiving.
The contrast between Mary and Elizabeth and the two women in that abortion clinic inspired Rose to name her investigation the "Mona Lisa Project." ("Mona" is another name for Mary, and "Lisa" for Elizabeth.) Her videos documented Planned Parenthood staffers violating mandatory reporting laws for statutory rape. They were the beginning of Live Action's national investigation program.
Rose throughout her college years juggled investigative work, class schedules, traveling, and interviews but still graduated. Live Action has now conducted seven investigations on Planned Parenthood. Its last investigation, released this spring, featured an actor posing as a pimp. When the actor asked for birth control and abortion services for his underage sex workers, Planned Parenthood staffers helped him instead of reporting him.
But as Rose and her team prepared to release the tapes, Planned Parenthood notified the FBI of some of the pimp's visits. Rose spent the next five weeks living in a Washington, D.C., hotel, working frantically to release the tapes. She slept 12 hours in that first week. Forcing her eyelids open, drinking coffee, and thriving on prayer, Rose prepared each video and participated in interviews with Fox, CNN, and CBS. The investigation received press criticism but also led the New Jersey attorney general to open an investigation into Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood leaders have not threatened to sue Rose since that first investigation-they recognize that this only draws more attention to Live Action's work. But when Live Action's videos pushed Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, the organization prompted thousands of its supporters to petition Congress and say that the videos were "misleading" and "dirty tricks."
An exuberant young woman who talks a mile a minute, Rose loves good books and a steady diet of cold cereal. Although people have threatened her life and told her she is immoral, she does not regret anything she has done while working with Live Action: "There's so much bloodshed. Undercover work is necessary to demonstrate what's really happening to women, and our unborn brothers and sisters."
Live Action has taken some bites out of Planned Parenthood: the defunding of Planned Parenthood in several states, a congressional investigation, clinic probation in Alabama, and legislative proposals to close sexual abuse reporting loopholes, not to mention the firing and resignation of some Planned Parenthood staffers caught on tape. Some Christians still wonder whether those ends justify Live Action's means, but Rose is now working for Live Action full-time and planning to "expose new abuses" by Planned Parenthood.
-Grace Howard is a student at Patrick Henry College