RICHMOND, Va. — If Planned Parenthood’s abortion providers had a top-10 enemies list, you would probably find Lila Rose, the 25-year-old president of the pro-life group Live Action, ranked there as enemy No. 1. And it would be for good reason: Over the course of eight years, her undercover investigations of Planned Parenthood facilities have given the public an inside view of Planned Parenthood, leading to criminal investigations, loss of state funding and new state laws.
Rose began her undercover investigations into abortion facilities at age 15, when she founded Live Action. The youth-led organization has grown exponentially since then, and it uses the tools of new media and social media to both expose the evils of the abortion industry and also build a culture of life by promoting human dignity.
Yet Rose stands apart as a passionate pro-life activist who strives to speak the truth boldly yet always animated by genuine love toward those who support legal abortion.
Rose spoke with Register staff reporter Peter Jesserer Smith after the Jan. 8 Virginia Stands for Life 2014 rally at the State Capitol in Richmond, where she was the event’s featured speaker. She shared with the Register her positive perspective on the pro-life movement and how her Catholic faith plays a key role in keeping her rooted in joyful hope through her pro-life work.
Lila, it’s great to speak with you today. What did you think of the Virginia Stands for Life rally?
It was great. We had a good crowd despite the cold. They’re very dedicated, and what they have been able to do in Virginia over the last year has been amazing. Over the last two years, they’ve lowered the abortion industry by 16%, and that’s a wonderful thing to celebrate.
Thousands of lives have been saved. And even in the face of the new governor, who is not pro-life, they have a lot of things that they will be doing to advance the pro-life message.
What do you think is the best way to remind legislators and elected officials that the majority is pro-life?
One great way to remind them is in the voting booth: Make sure you vote, so that they know this issue is the most important one they’ll ever see. But also make sure to go to them and actually visit them, just as people here were going to see the delegates after the rally. We need to be present, in front of their faces, telling them that we’re part of the pro-life majority, that we care, and we’re not going to let them forget about this important issue.
So the extent of our passion and activity will translate into the results that we want. We have to be persistent and passionate in the pursuit of our goals. Obviously, lives are at stake here, and we have to behave as if that is true, because it is true.
You’ve been involved in pro-life advocacy for a number of years. What do you know now that you didn’t realize at the beginning?
One thing I didn’t realize was that, despite what seemed to be insurmountable odds, at times, you can get out a message of truth, whether it’s an undercover video or a message to young people about the human-rights issues of abortion. In today’s technological climate, with the rise of new media and social media, you can disseminate a message to many more people than I would have ever thought possible at age 15, when I was just starting out.
I started out because of the rise of new and social media in the last five to eight years. So I think one of the things that has changed the landscape for pro-life activists is the ability to get messages out there to millions of people, when, before, they were silenced by pro-abortion media groups.
The pro-life movement has focused on loving the mothers in crisis pregnancies and their unborn children. In addition to activism against legal abortion, what can we do to give them concrete help and support, so they can make the courageous choice for life?
I think we have to be holistic in our approach, including in public policy. We have to ban abortion: It is a horrific, violent injustice that needs to be banned completely. But we need to promote positive policies, the first of all being personhood: recognizing the complete dignity of the human person at any stage of development from the single-cell zygote to natural death. We need to craft public policy, but also community programs around supporting people throughout their lives, whether they are an unborn child and a mother who are involved or a newborn child or a 2-year-old child who is suffering and needs the support of the community.
Pro-life people in their communities, whether it is in their churches or city councils or whatever it may be, need to fight for complete and permanent protection [for the unborn], but also look holistically at their communities and say, “How can we improve the situation for young mothers, for single mothers, for children in foster care, for couples who want to adopt and can help children in their communities?” That needs to be part of our discussion.
The stakes, obviously, are so high for the pro-life movement — no better example could be the injustice of abortion. Is it a challenge to love the other side in this debate? How do you do it?
I can, of course, understand why it is difficult to demonstrate love, or really control anger, toward people or groups that are supporting really horrific acts, whether it be abortion or are misunderstanding or hurting the public conception of human dignity. That can be difficult for folks.
But as Christians, as Catholics, the message for us, our call to action is very clear: We have to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. Part of doing those good works is telling them the truth — but always to do it with love, respect and compassion. And to be bold in telling the uncompromised truth, because the truth really does set people free and, until our nation — including abortionists and abortion workers — understand and act on the reality and violence of abortion by rejecting it, they’re not going to find the peace that they crave. They are not going to have the freedom that they want deep down.
We are really blessed because we have the truth, and with the Holy Spirit, we have the grace to be loving in all circumstances, despite the persecution and the frustration that we might face.
How do you have the strength and resources to engage in pro-life work but keep this perspective of loving the person on the opposite side?
For me, to keep in this perspective of love and truth, whether it is engaging the opposition through undercover work or through education, prayer is crucial. Praying in silence before the Blessed Sacrament and making constant acts to rectify our intention, asking for humility from God (which is a gift) and asking for courage to speak the truth in love.
So I think the basis of all of our work is prayer. Prayer is the life blood of everything we do. We have to educate our own selves, form our own consciences, understand what our faith teaches, understand natural law, understand the vision of our nation that is truly pro-dignity for each person. But the way to do that has to start with prayer.
How is your own Catholic faith related to your own pro-life mission?
My faith informs everything that I do, and nothing is more important than following Jesus Christ. Receiving the many graces of the sacraments as food for the soul nourish me in what I do. What is so beautiful about our movement is that, because we’re fighting for these fundamental truths, people of any faith background, or even, in some ways, no faith ground, resonate with this message. This message resonates with them.
I think it is very beautiful to see how, when you get someone to embrace human dignity, it leads them to Christ. Our movement leads people closer to Christ, because Christ radically taught us the value of each human person, when he spread out his arms and gave up his life because of the love he had for all mankind, for every human person.
So my journey has really been one of an intellectual conversion, as well as my heart. Being hungry to be a part of the Church, I came into the Church almost five years ago now. And I’ve known other people who have become Catholic in part through the pro-life movement. It is just beautiful to see just one truth leads to the next. The Holy Spirit is constantly at work.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to speak with you. Last question: Pro-life people in Virginia and the United States have some hard tasks ahead of them. What attitudes should they have as they approach these challenges?
First of all, we should never be disheartened by any apparent roadblocks. What happens is these roadblocks can actually become stepping stones for having a greater impact. If you look at the past three years, you see an historic amount of pro-life legislation on the state level, even in the face of the most pro-abortion president that we’ve ever had and in the face of Obamacare.
So keep in mind that, whenever there is a roadblock, it can be a stepping stone; and keep the perspective of seeing challenges as opportunities. When you see extremist pro-abortion policies being promoted (such as where the entire discussion of women is reduced to their supposed need for hormone drugs), that, actually, is an opportunity where we can get out there and speak the truth. But again, it is not being silent in the face of the lies being told, but using that as an opportunity for us to spread our message. And what we’re going to see increasingly is more hearts and minds being changed, and the polling shows us that hearts and minds are being changed to the pro-life position.