Citizen “Entrapment”: Lila Rose and 21st Century Stealth Pro-Life Activism

Mandy Van Deven

Lila Rose's Live Action Films uses police quality undercover equipment to record a loosely scripted conversation in which Rose and her cohorts bait Planned Parenthood employees into violating the organization's policies. Welcome to twenty-first century stealth pro-life activism.

Twenty-year-old
Lila Rose suffers from a condition that afflicts many new activists, a condition known as myopia. Those who suffer from myopia experience an
inability to see nuance in the world and seek comfort in absolutes.  While thought to be more pronounced among the
young, myopia can infect people of all ages with varying results, and the
results of Rose’s particular strain of this cerebral infection have only just
begun to make themselves known.


One of Lila Rose’s undercover visits to Planned Parenthood, this one in Memphis, Tennesee.

It’s
not clear how Rose became involved in the pro-life movement – it is a question
she studiously avoids answering. Perhaps it is no surprise that a girl who grew
up with seven siblings in an Evangelical family in San Jose, California, would
become passionate about putting a stop to abortion. But religiosity is not a
sure path to fanaticism, and as easy as it would be to demonize this young
woman as a misguided anti-abortion extremist, or undermine her position by
focusing on who is pulling her marionette strings, that view ignores Rose’s
power over her own actions. But when we engage with her controversial methods
and explore the (largely one-sided) response they have elicited we find Lila
Rose is intent on appropriating some of the principles upon which the social justice
movement is founded.

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Rose,
a history student at UCLA, is the founder of the somewhat pornographically
named "Live Action Films," the ultimate goal of which, says Rose:

is to use educational media to help create a world
where the life of every human being, even the smallest or least developed, is
protected.  We are student journalists and work to expose sexual
abuse cover-up and racism at the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned
Parenthood.

The group uses police-quality
undercover equipment to record a loosely scripted conversation in which Rose
and her cohorts bait Planned Parenthood employees into violating the
organization’s policies. Videos of the in-person and phone conversations are
then posted on YouTube and the Live Action Films website. Welcome to
twenty-first century stealth pro-life activism, folks.

Rose’s
methods do simply replicate those used by police officials (and Dateline NBC)
to apprehend prostitutes, drug dealers, and child sex offenders. Though those
methods raise many worthwhile ethical questions, few would have batted an eye
had she not captured a handful of questionable encounters with Planned
Parenthood staff, the most damning of which shows a service provider at Planned Parenthood Greater
Memphis Region telling Rose, who the provider believes to be a 14-year-old
girl, that Rose can protect her 31-year-old boyfriend by lying about his age
when she seeks an abortion.

The
encounters are not as sensational as Rose would like you to believe. The brief
moments she chooses to focus on take place within a lengthy conversation–Rose’s
encounter with the Greater Memphis affiliate lasted 28 minutes–in which the
context of particular statements is not always clear. Although the Memphis video is
available ‘in its entirety’ by Live Action Films, seemingly a move toward
transparency, some of the dialogue curiously remains muted by Rose. Because
Rose isn’t the adolescent she claimed to be and Tennessee’s law gives health professionals the benefit of discretion in deciding which cases to report–merely encouraging rather than requiring a mandated heath care provider
to notify legal authorities if abuse is suspected–none of the employees
actually committed a criminal act. Even so, despite not being illegal, the
employees’ actions are ethically questionable, and still run afoul of Planned
Parenthood’s policy of reporting suspected statutory rape.

The
extent of the "problem" of unreported statutory rape is enormously unclear;
Rose has not been forthcoming in stating the precise number of clinics she has
visited so her sample size is unclear (is this an anomalous situation in one out of 100 or 500 clinics visited?) nor has she disclosed how often clinic staff responded appropriately to
her created dilemma.  Since it is clear
that in any large health care system some missteps are unavoidable–to err is human, after all–and that a few employees
out of the over 30,000 people who work with Planned Parenthood will exhibit
less-than-stellar practices, it is misleading for Rose to cherry pick the worst
offenders as "proof" that the cover up of sexual abuse is widespread within the
organization without further context.

Since
Rose has videotaped patients inside a health care facility and made that video
publicly available, some have voiced criticism at the potential
violation of a patient’s right to privacy
, others have decried Rose’s
script as entrapment,
and others still have demanded that Rose compensate
Planned Parenthood for wasting the organization’s resources. The latter two are
the easiest to respond to: the services Rose availed herself of are typically
offered at no cost, and so there is nothing for her to reimburse. As far as
entrapment is concerned, since Rose is a private citizen, not a law enforcement
officer, this line of legal argument fails to apply.


The
privacy rights issue is more difficult to discern. Since laws vary by state, it
is unclear the rights of the patients who appear in Live Action Films are being
violated when their likenesses are not actually displayed publicly. (Live
Action Films has blurred the faces of the patients on the videos they have
released.) We also don’t know which states’ laws may apply, as the locations of
the clinics are only divulged when Live Action Films chooses to release the
selective footage.

If,
legally speaking, neither Rose nor Planned Parenthood has done anything wrong,
what is so special about yet another argument regarding abortion and morality?
Morality is, after all, largely in the eye of the beholder. I realized why I
was so bothered by Rose’s expertly tailored media persona while listening to an
interview she did with
radio host Laura Ingraham, and found myself nodding in agreement with Rose about
elements of her argument.

Here’s
what Rose told Ingraham: "[The pro-choice movement] should demand the best from
their abortion providers…they need to demand the best behavior and the best
law-abiding protection of women from these supposed people on their side." Any
health care provider requires regular self-assessment regarding both the
protection of patients’ rights and providers’ responsibilities. It is the
responsibility of the provider to ensure staff are not only effectively trained
at the time they are hired, but also that they continue to comply with the
organization’s policies and procedures throughout the duration of employment. Rose’s
examples, however out of context they may be, hit home the point that providers
and pro-choice advocates are already aware of and work to address: ensuring an
impeccable quality of care is enormously important and needs to be a high
priority for both health care providers and the pro-choice movement.

Rose’s
use of feminist and anti-racist language on Ingraham’s show made me ponder why she
seemed so keen to channel SisterSong’s vision
of reproductive justice
, and why she appeared to be speaking to her
opponents instead of to her comrades. I had convinced myself this was a
momentary lapse from Rose until a similar argument purporting to demonstrate her
concern for women arose when she appeared in an interview with Glenn Beck ("Planned Parenthood
institutionally covers up sexual abuse to procure secret abortions for little
girls and then sends them back to the sexual abuser") and once
more on Hannity’s America ("79% of
[Planned Parenthood’s] clinics are in minority neighborhoods, and an African
American baby is almost as likely to be aborted because of this as it is to be
born. Abortion is truly impacting, devastating the African American community
and Planned Parenthood is behind that.")

Obviously,
this was not a temporary lapse. Lila Rose is using a tactic that has been utilized
by anti-abortion activists to combat global reproductive health services for
the past 30 years: to co-opt the rhetoric of the Left – in this case, specific
reproductive justice concerns and commitments – in order to use it against
them. As Michelle
Goldberg details in The Means of
Reproduction
, in the 1980s feminists fought for a paradigm shift in
global reproductive rights by criticizing the cultural imperialism of
population control advocates who believed in the necessity of decreasing
population growth in "undeveloped" countries only to have this same criticism
thrown back at them by the same conservative groups a decade later. Rose hasn’t
found a new tactic, just new packaging.

The
anti-abortion movement has always been good at using the media to popularize
their message. Rose has been featured on several Fox News segments, and she
also publishes a newspaper, The Advocate,
through her university. Live Action Films has been sending out press releases
detailing their activities on a nearly biweekly basis since September 2008, and
the frequency has increased in recent months. This could be the beginning of a
rebranding of the pro-life movement.

So
far the Left has been largely silent about Rose’s activities- a mistaken
underestimation of the power of media and the ability of the Right to shape the
debate by putting the pro-choice community in a weaker, defensive position. It is difficult to debunk a story that has
surged unchecked throughout the blogosphere and appeared on credible
media outlets
; but more than that, if established, it will be nearly
impossible to unravel a pro-life discourse that removes the Left’s claim on
fighting racism and sexism within reproductive health.

Feminists and health advocates
need to respond publicly to Rose’s dubious assertions that Planned Parenthood is a
nefarious organization that facilitates sexual abuse and racial genocide. They
need to point out that her paternalistic attitude toward women and minority
groups only serves to perpetuate the institutionalized sexism and racism that
permeates our society by denying them affordable health care services from an
organization that offers a range of services, 97 percent of services are preventive services (gynecological exams,
contraception distribution, STI testing and treatment, cervical and breast
cancer screenings, sexual health education, etc) and where, according to
Planned Parenthood Federation of America spokesperson Diane Quest, "any removal of public funding
would only serve to deny women, men, and young people critical preventive
health care."

Advocates also need to talk about supportive ways to hold Planned Parenthood and other
abortion providers accountable to their own policies: providing financial and
in-kind support for staff professional development and monitoring of policy
compliance, advocating for pro-choice legislation, reporting policy infractions
to executive staff and other already-established regulatory bodies, conducting
research to identify best practices, and building coalitions among pro-choice
organizations and groups that work to support girls who are sexually exploited,
to name a few. They also need to point out that what Rose is doing may put
clinic staff in danger, as some of the information made public in her videos
could be used for perilous purposes (for example, the days the doctors are in
the clinic and the process by which discarded tissue is disposed of). They need
to talk about all of the women and people of color who are employed by Planned
Parenthood who are at risk of losing their jobs if the organization loses
funding.

Lila
Rose believes that her goal is righteous, and the pro-life community does too.
She received a $50,000 Life Prize in February from the Gerard Health Foundation to
work toward her goal of "continuing to do nonprofit educational work to reach
the public with the message that all human beings are created equal, and should
be protected by law and by individual choice." It’s time for the Left to start
talking about these videos and these tactics. We cannot allow feminism
to act as a cover for misogynists with short-sighted, myopic objectives.

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