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Anti-abortion movement gets a new-media twist

Lila Rose, a UCLA student, goes undercover at Planned Parenthood clinics to pose as an underage girl pregnant by a 31-year-old. Her surreptitious videos go on YouTube, and inspire outrage.

April 26, 2009|Robin Abcarian

The girl's voice in the videotape is tiny and tentative. She is talking to a nursing aide in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bloomington, Ind. The girl wants an abortion.

The aide explains that the girl will need a parent's consent because she is only 13.

The girl balks; she does not want to name the father.

"Cause, I mean, he would be in really big trouble," says the girl. Her boyfriend, she explains, is 31.

The aide drops her head into her hands.

"In the state of Indiana," says the aide, "when anyone has had intercourse and they are age 13 or younger . . . it has to be reported to Child Protective Services."

There is a 60-second gap in the tape, according to the running timer on the video. What happens next is meant to be explosive.

"OK," says the aide, "I didn't hear the age. I don't want to know the age. It could be reported as rape. And that's child abuse."

"So if I just say I don't know who the father was, but he's one of the guys at school or something?" asks the girl.

"Right," says the aide, who has just stepped into a carefully laid trap.

As it happens, the boyfriend does not exist. The girl is not pregnant. Nor is she 13.

She is Lila Rose, a 20-year-old UCLA history major with a little voice and a bold plan to expose what she and many abortion foes see as Planned Parenthood's wrongdoings.

Since 2006, Rose has orchestrated undercover "stings" at Planned Parenthood clinics in Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Tucson, Phoenix and Memphis.

Surreptitiously videotaping their interactions, she and a friend have posed as abortion-seeking teens impregnated by older men. The videos -- boiled down to five minutes, with portentous music and fast cuts to heighten the drama -- are posted on Rose's website, LiveAction.org, and YouTube.

Rose's strategy -- accusing Planned Parenthood of failing to report suspected statutory rapes -- is not a new one in the antiabortion trenches. But the new-media twist on the idea has put her front and center of a new generation.

"There is this stereotype of who we pro-life leaders are, and for the most part it would be white middle-aged religious men trying to impose their will on women," said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. "So now with Lila, you bring this young, fresh college student that completely blows any stereotypes away. No one is going to accuse Lila of being mean, vindictive and harsh."

Rose's goal is to undermine legal abortion by showing that Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the country, abets sexual exploitation by counseling pregnant minors to lie about the ages of their adult boyfriends.

Planned Parenthood officials strenuously deny the charge. Protecting minors is a crucial part of their mission, they say, but with 30,000 employees and volunteers and 850 clinics, they say, mistakes are inevitable.

Abortion is not likely to be outlawed any time soon, but Rose's work is having an impact, particularly on a local level, where abortion foes are increasingly focusing their efforts.

On Wednesday, Tennessee lawmakers said they would seek to end a $721,000 contract with Planned Parenthood, citing outrage over what they saw in a video Rose had posted two days earlier from a Memphis clinic. She posed there in July as a 14-year-old impregnated by a 31-year-old; a Planned Parenthood staffer says, "Just say you have a boyfriend, 17 years old, whatever."

Last month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend a grant worth nearly $300,000 to Planned Parenthood that was earmarked for sex education, not abortions. A conservative Tustin businessman raised the issue with Supervisor John Moorlach after meeting Rose and seeing her videos.

Last year, after the Indiana videos were posted on Rose's website, Bloomington's Herald Times reported that the nurse's aide seen on the tape had been fired. A second Planned Parenthood staffer, in Indianapolis, resigned: Rose's tape appeared to show that employee directing the young woman across the state line to a clinic in Illinois, which doesn't have a parental consent law.

A grand jury is investigating whether Planned Parenthood violated the law, said Mario Massillamany, a spokesman for the prosecutor of Marion County, where Indianapolis is located. "After we stated we were conducting an investigation, they hired a group to conduct better training for their staff," he added.

Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said it is a violation of the organization's policy to tell a young woman to lie about the age of a father. The well-being of patients, she said, is paramount. "And that means making sure that we are complying with minor-abuse reporting requirements."

Rose, she added, has refused to show Planned Parenthood her unedited tapes, so "it's very difficult for us to know what happened."

Rose said the full, 48-minute video of her encounter in Indianapolis is available at her website.

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