‘Fighting for Life’: Lila Rose’s Mission to Save the Unborn
In new book, Live Action’s founder outlines her efforts for little lives.
In her new book, Fighting for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World (Thomas Nelson, May 2021), Lila Rose shares dramatic stories on how she became a powerful pro-life force in this country and offers a guide for others to do the same. She is the founder and president of Live Action, a human-rights nonprofit with the largest following in the global pro-life movement: 5 million. Her investigative reporting on the abortion industry has been featured in most major news outlets.
Rose speaks internationally on family and cultural issues and has addressed members of the European Parliament and the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, she lives in California with her husband and young son. In an interview with the Register, Rose shared insights from her life and book.
The title of your book is Fighting for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World. That pretty much reflects your life, right?
That has been my goal since I was given that inspiration as a young teen. I’m a work in progress, and a lot of the book is about being a work in progress and how the change that we want to make in the world around us as activists and educators, whatever our calling is, how a lot of the change has to do with how much we are willing to change inside and the healing that we discover through, ultimately, Christ and by growing in virtue and in the relationships that we are given. So the book is both about the change we are making externally to the world around us and the change that is acquired from within.
How were you first inspired to become an advocate for the unborn?
It was really heartbreak at a young age that was my first inspiration to discover the pro-life cause. And I was 9 years old, and from a big family, so there were lots of kids in the house — I’m the third oldest; lots of babies — and that was such a blessing growing up. But I didn’t really know about abortion. My parents weren’t necessarily activists, but they certainly were very pro-life. And when I was 9, I did find this book in my parents’ home, because I loved to read, and it was called A Handbook on Abortion, by Dr. and Mrs. Willke, an older classic in the pro-life movement. I ended up opening that book and being confronted in the insert — there was an insert with images of abortion victims. And I saw for the first time what abortion does to a baby, and it’s undeniable. In the first trimester, in the humanity of that baby, I saw this beautiful little child, with arms and legs. You could see faces. I saw what a first-trimester abortion does to destroy that developing child. My heart was really touched by that — and grieved. I felt that I wanted to learn more; I wanted to understand why this was happening, and, ultimately, I wanted to do something about it. And that inspired me as I got older to research it, to try to learn more, to study the issue of abortion. And also, I got involved in and cared about other causes, but I share in the book how I have heroes and how heroes are so important in discovering our calling and our cause. And, for me, I came across the writings of Mother Teresa at a retreat as a teen. And she really crystalized the primacy of the fight for life because she said that “the greatest destroyer of peace in the world is abortion.” And she said, “In a nation where a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for you and I to kill one another?”
When I read those words for the first time, I remembered that baby I had seen; I remembered the death toll at that time — 3,000 abortions daily in America — that I had learned about, and I thought, “This is it. This is the cause of the day, the greatest human-rights cause, and I can’t just pretend like it’s not happening. I have to get involved.” So that inspired me, through my own heartache, through my own study, and then through having heroes that inspired me, that inspired me, convicted me, to start Live Action.
You said that that “deep grief is often the starting point for writing an injustice.” And I think a lot of us are too afraid to get too emotionally torn apart. But you tell people to let their hearts ache and burn because it is going to be the fuel and the passion that we need to fight injustices, right?
Exactly. I mean, it hurts to hurt, and I think there’s already a lot of hurt in the world. But allowing ourselves to be heartbroken over injustice, to be heartbroken over the suffering of others, we don’t end with the heartbreak. And the book starts with heartbreak, but it doesn’t end with heartbreak. It ends with healing. But we have to allow that initial grief to sit with us, to allow ourselves to grieve, because it will teach us a deeper compassion and I think ultimately a motivation for the causes that need us. …
How did you start Live Action at the age of 15?
Starting Live Action, I just did the first thing I needed to do. … I got involved with the local pregnancy center. I got involved with their peers-encouraging-abstinence teams, but, ultimately, I realized we needed to educate teens — my peers — on abortion, and there was nothing like that that existed in my area. So after educating myself and learning as much as I could, I eventually found somebody, outside of San Jose, but in central California, who was willing to drive … to sit down with me and some friends and to begin to train us on how to give pro-life presentations that we could eventually give in churches and schools, and that was the beginning of Live Action.
… There is a lot in the book about overcoming obstacles, because I think anybody who’s seeking their calling, who is getting involved in a cause: You face obstacles. You face unknowns. You face barriers that you have to push through. So, for me, I was a 15-year-old girl learning how to give a pro-life presentation. … It was one church at a time, one pastor at a time, one student leader at a time, to persuade them to hear this message. As we built up our reputation and credibility, we began to get invitations … and still do tons of presentations at Live Action, but we’ve evolved from a youth organization doing presentations to an investigative and global education organization, after I graduated high school. We are a small, full-time team — about 25 full time. We work with dozens of contractors; but our volunteer base of activists is over 500,000 strong … and more than 5 million followers online, people who are engaged with our content who then share it with other people and educate other people in their communities.
You’ve experienced censorship on social media, such as having abortionists serve as fact-checkers on your content and being completely banned on Pinterest. How do you navigate the censorship culture?
… We’ve fought each battle. … Thankfully, despite the resistance that we have faced over the last 10 years, we’ve built an army. We have the largest following for the global pro-life movement: over 5 million people strong. … What is more powerful than the obstacles is the passion and determination of many pro-life Americans who want to stand up for what’s right, who see the crisis.
That’s why I wrote the book. I want to encourage and inspire and support the amazing activists. This movement is millions of pro-life Americans who are of all ages — many of them young people; all different backgrounds — who see the destruction of human life and cannot stay silent because they are standing up. That’s the beauty and strength of our movement, no matter the obstacles we face.
How have you gotten access so often to the big-name secular media?
… Years and years of repeated investigative work where we kept finding new angles to expose the abortion industry to tell newsworthy stories about what was happening inside these facilities at Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion chain. And we continued to hammer those messages home and report really incredible findings, both from undercover reporting and data analysis and collecting the stories of survivors — [such as] sexual-abuse survivors who had been taken to Planned Parenthood under duress and given secret abortions instead of their abuse being reported by Planned Parenthood. So we ultimately continue that drumbeat and built a loud enough platform through our social media, through our independent media, and that ultimately tipped the scales so we were able to secure coverage from otherwise-hostile outlets. Now, should there have been a lot more coverage? Yes. Should there be more coverage to this day? Yes. … But we are still making headway, and that is what counts in keeping that momentum going.
I assume you pray for your opponents, that you’re opening hearts and minds.
Absolutely. And I think that’s part of the message of the book, too: to embrace the pain of the people that we are trying to reach because a lot of them are hurting, especially people who have been involved in abortion in the past or are working in the abortion industry — and to love our enemies. We are told by Jesus Christ multiple times to “love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute” us. …
With abortion, it’s important to understand that we are not the victim. … We take flak for it and face obstacles, but we’re not in danger of dying the way a preborn child is. …
How do you address contraception in the book?
All hormonal contraception, if you read the fine print, you find that it’s designed not just to prevent fertilization but to weaken the lining of the mother’s uterus to make it hostile to a newly conceived embryo so that the embryo cannot implant and instead starves to death. …
I talk about in the book about the larger picture of the pro-life battle, in terms of sex and love. That’s the landscape of our culture, where we have divorced sex from marriage and divorced children from marriage; so now, not only is sex no longer about marriage, but it is also no longer about children. So now we have severed the two basic elements of the beautiful thing of sex that God created … that now when you get pregnant, it’s an accident instead of: Oh, hey, sex is actually designed to bring life into the world. And sex is no longer seen as one flesh, bonding two people together for life, but instead as a sort of casual pastime that is just about consent and pleasure.
… The mainstream culture … sees having sex before marriage as a virtue or something very normalized, but getting pregnant after having sex is seen as this terrible thing. That is so unfair and misleading for young people — instead of saying, no, sex is beautiful and good in a lifelong, sacred relationship — a marriage — and it’s good to bring life into the world. …
What do you recommend as the first step for embarking on a cause?
If we are going to fight for a cause, if we are going to discover our calling, it is essential that we know who we are before God and that we allow God to inspire us. … For all the causes in the world and for all the callings that we might feel we have to do, if we are not ultimately focused on eternity with God and seeking to serve him and his children first, it’s all going to be for naught, and that the ultimate cause is to love him and to be loved by him.
What is your biggest challenge amid the everyday culture?
… Our culture calls evil good and often good evil. It’s totally upside down. … This confusion that we are swimming in costs us dearly; it’s the reason we have a death toll of nearly a million abortions a year. … If you don’t know the truth, if you believe the lies, you are going to make the wrong choices, the wrong decisions, and those bring serious hurt to yourself and others. So [our job is]: Exposing the evil, speaking the truth, rehumanizing the child, reminding people of their dignity, reminding people of morality and God and who God is — I think these are essential things.
What have been your greatest successes?
… Some of the greatest celebrations are the lives saved. I share some of those stories. ... When you heard about a life that has been saved in part because of your work, there really is no greater joy.
… Another victory that was really significant for Live Action was the first bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives to defund Planned Parenthood of taxpayer dollars. … The abortion industry is being propped up by the government, and they are so powerful politically and they are so entrenched in our communities. To see a bipartisan majority vote … and I was told it was impossible … that was a huge thing to celebrate. …
We continue investigative reporting today, but we focus even more broadly on educating exactly on what abortion is and the dignity of the person, and using media and storytelling and images to do that … to persuade people to become pro-life.
… It’s about building something beautiful.
This interview was edited for length.
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