Fighting for Life: Lila Rose on Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World

‘Fighting for Life’ is a story of a person who saw injustice and responded.

Detail of the book cover for Lila Rose’s ‘Fighting for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World’
Detail of the book cover for Lila Rose’s ‘Fighting for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World’ (photo: Thomas Nelson)

Lila Rose has been called “the face of the millennial anti-abortion movement.”

This is high praise for a person who began her pro-life efforts in the San Francisco Bay area, a community not known for pro-life, pro-family and pro-chastity virtues. Though still a young person, her long-awaited autobiography, Fighting for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World, has arrived. And so has Lila Rose — she is one of the world’s foremost advocates for women and unborn children.

Fighting for Life takes readers on a remarkable journey. Lila discovers a book on abortion as a 9-year-old, organizes a pro-life club as a teenager, investigates Planned Parenthood as a student at UCLA, captures footage of Planned Parenthood dismissing statutory rape and human trafficking, testifies before Congress, and leads one of the most sophisticated pro-life organizations in the world. This is a riveting and forthright account that blends autobiography, history and “how to” strategies.

As with all great books, the author’s vivid writing draws you in. We walk in her shoes, encounter her world and share her struggles. We’re rooting for her. She trusts and cares enough about the reader and the pro-life cause to present her challenges — professional and personal.

Lila grew up immersed in books and surrounded by brothers — two older and three younger. She prayed nightly for a little sister. She was only 8 years old when her parents shared the news that a seventh Rose was on the way. They posted the ultrasound image on the refrigerator, and Lila gazed with awe. Within a few months, Lila’s little sister arrived. Not long thereafter, Lila stumbled upon A Handbook on Abortion by pro-life pioneers, Dr. John Wilke and his wife Mrs. Barbara Wilke, a nurse. The book’s pictures horrified her. She had to respond. But how?

At 11, Lila vividly recalls entering a Catholic bookstore for the first time. She marveled at the icons, the old books, the rosaries, the candles, the clergy apparel, the lives of the saints and the statues. She was particularly drawn to images of Mary, and on a subsequent visit, she noticed a little statue of the Blessed Mother no larger than her hand. Mary was “strong but gentle, brave but still vulnerable.” Her father graciously bought it for her.

At 13, Lila discovered that a small group prayed outside a nearby abortion facility on Saturdays. She persuaded her parents to let her participate. As she prayed, the harsh reality of abortion became even clearer. Mothers entered. Wounded women exited. How could this be? 

At 15, she launched Live Action. She cared about many causes but none compared to abortion. “These children were being killed with the explicit permission of the law and at the request of their own mothers.” And no other injustice has taken more lives. Abortion is the leading cause of death in the United States and the world. Lila came to realize that “our spiritual survival as a civilization hinged on whether we allowed the bloodshed to continue.” Jesus’ words struck a chord: “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” A defenseless child in the womb surely is one of the least of these. What could be done?

As Lila’s life story proceeds, she seamlessly integrates theology, philosophy and history. These dimensions unfold in a conversational manner, never heavy-handed. For example, Lila references the pressure students experience to join false causes such as Marxism that may appear attractive, but fail to honor inalienable rights and have a long history of murder and exploitation. Similarly, the reader learns about Margaret Sanger’s embrace of eugenics and the role eugenics played in the founding of Planned Parenthood. This cruel, utilitarian thinking continues today, particularly in the context of preborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome and other genetic conditions. In these cases, eugenics is the default option.

Lila’s remarkable achievements at such a young age gain even greater depth when she reveals her struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical, Saved in Hope, comes to mind:

Human life is a journey ... often dark and stormy. ... The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light. ... But to reach him we also need lights close by — people who shine with his light. ... Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. John 1:14).

With sound medical intervention, Lila faces and overcomes these struggles. She enrolls at UCLA recognizing that from a pro-life perspective, UCLA is mission territory. This becomes abundantly clear when she learns that the orientation program includes a demonstration concerning contraception and that the Health Center processed more than 2,000 pregnancy tests the year before. Meanwhile, the pro-life club has no bank account and the leadership team consists of two seniors. Lila is an answer to their prayers. They promptly pass the leadership baton to Lila.

While in college, Lila decides to investigate the UCLA Health Center. She then expands to abortion facilities in several states. The timing of these exposés corresponds with the advent of YouTube. By publishing the footage through YouTube, Live Action pulls back the curtain on Planned Parenthood. The nation sees and hears Planned Parenthood’s modus operandi — the promotion of promiscuity and the shocking reality of abortion.

Planned Parenthood’s approach to abortion is unequivocal: Abortion for any reason. The footage captures employees ignoring reporting laws, approving race- and sex-selective abortion of female babies, and withholding medical care for babies who survive abortion.

Live Action’s footage shocks the nation. For the first time, Planned Parenthood — a billion-dollar business — rocks back on its heels, and Congress considers ending the half-billion in tax dollars that it annually allocates.

Fighting for Life is a superb manual for those seeking to protect innocent human life and to help mothers, fathers, abortion workers and others recover from abortion. This is a story of a person who saw injustice and responded. Lila Rose asked God to help her be a force for good, and God answered her prayer. The book opens with a section titled “Getting Started” and the final chapter in that section is “Just Start.”

Standing for truth with love is everyone’s call. Building a culture of life honors inalienable rights. Trusting in God enables the pursuit of happiness. Proceeding with humility and courage fosters liberty and justice for all. Truth resonates and inspires.

On Christmas day, in 1962, To Kill A Mockingbird opened in theaters across the nation.

The film portrays Atticus Finch, a widowed father of two young children and an honorable attorney who defends an innocent black man. Released at the height of the Civil Rights movement, the film is regarded as one of the greatest of all time. It is based on Harper Lee’s classic book of the same title published two years earlier.

The title refers to the first principle of justice — that the taking of innocent life can never be justified. Harper Lee writes, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy.” Atticus tells his children, “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 

At the turn of the century, the American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century. Perhaps one day a movie will be made about Lila Rose.

It would be fitting if Fighting for Life opened on Christmas. The first gift of Christmas is a child. And having ushered in a culture that welcomes children and protects the innocent, it would be fitting if the American Film Institute were someday to name Lila Rose the greatest movie hero of the 21st century.

Michael O. Kenney is the president of the Pro-Life Partners Foundation and a Senior Fellow of the The Cardinal Newman Society.