How Live Action Influenced Illinois Law

A teen’s dream has led to exposés and pro-life legislation.

Lila Rose
Lila Rose (photo: Live Action)

A sting operation in New Jersey undertaken by pro-life activists has had a ripple effect across the country, leading to new laws protecting the unborn.

A man and woman entered a Perth Amboy, N.J., Planned Parenthood clinic in January seeking help for their sex ring of 14- and 15-year-old girls. The girls needed STD testing, they told manager Amy Woodruff, as well as birth control and abortions.

Woodruff was accommodating and offered no objection to children being used as prostitutes. In fact, she offered helpful tips, such as telling them to indicate they are students so they can get the best prices on birth control: “Just kinda play along that they’re students. We wanna make it look as legit as possible.”

The girls should lie about the ages of their sex partners, she said: “If they are a minor, we are obligated if we hear certain information to kind of report [it]. … So, as long as they just lie and say, ‘Oh, he’s 15, 16,’” no one will ask any questions.

Minors can get abortions without parents’ consent, she assured them: “She’s still entitled to care without mom knowin’ what the hell’s goin’ on.”

She stressed confidentiality: “The only stuff that ever gets shared is, like, with the State Department. You know: positive results and stuff.”

But the pair did not run a sex ring. They were undercover members of Live Action, a San Jose, Calif.-based pro-life organization dedicated to ending abortion, who secretly videotaped the encounter. The video was posted on YouTube and aroused public indignation and renewed demands of pro-life activists that Planned Parenthood stop receiving taxpayer funding.

During the sting operation, Woodruff recommended a location where a minor could obtain an abortion and suggested that no reporting would be made to the state of New Jersey.

The sting operation led Illinois State Rep. David Reis to introduce legislation for his state that expanded the list of those who are required to report incidents of sex with minors to authorities. The measure was signed into law Aug. 4. Previously, abortionists and medical staff were required to make a report; now office staff and volunteers are required to as well.

Reis explained, “The new law is an attempt to ensure what happened in New Jersey will not happen in Illinois.”

Open About Goals

The law was a pleasant surprise to Lila Rose, 23, who founded Live Action and is spokeswoman for the organization. The New Jersey investigation was one of seven Live Action stings organized in four states; organizers selected regions of the country where sex trafficking was common. The Perth Amboy clinic was chosen because it is the second-largest abortion clinic in the area.

Rose explained, “Our purpose was to demonstrate visually how many Planned Parenthood employees cooperate with child sex traffickers.”

While investigations of other abortion providers are being planned, Planned Parenthood has been the primary target of the organization because it is the nation’s largest provider of abortions — 40% of the organization’s income comes from performing abortions, Rose asserted. What made the New Jersey clinic a noteworthy example was the large number of abortions performed at the facility, Rose continued, and the “creative” and “enthusiastic” suggestions Woodruff offered to help those whom she believed to be sex traffickers circumvent the state’s child-abuse reporting laws.

Embarrassed Planned Parenthood leaders fired Woodruff after the video went public but criticized Live Action. Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey’s President/CEO Phyllis Kinsler told supporters, “We are devastated that this terrible video is being used to promote an anti-choice, anti-women’s health agenda. We cannot allow these coordinated efforts to continue.”

Planned Parenthood officials have also referred to the videos as “hoaxes” and say they are “clearly doctored and cannot be trusted.”

Rose replied, “We say: Let the evidence speak for itself.”

Some Catholics too have criticized Live Action for its use of deception in getting its information.

Rose says she consulted with her spiritual director and other knowledgeable Catholics who told her the saints and other people of faith have used deception for just causes. The Hebrew midwives lied to the pharaoh to protect children, for example, and priests forged baptismal certificates to save Jews from the Nazis. “We are doing this to expose the truth and to instruct and illuminate, posing as real cases that are happening every day,” Rose said.

Some prominent Catholics agree with her: “The closest analogy I can think of,” said philosopher Peter Kreeft of Boston College, “is spying. If Live Action is wrong, then so is all spying, including spying out the Nazis’ atomic bomb projects and saving the world from a nuclear holocaust.”

“Their behavior seems no different from what a police department would engage in, or 60 Minutes or Dateline,” added Live Action’s attorney, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society. “They engage in investigative journalism to learn the truth.”

Live Action is open about its goals regarding Planned Parenthood. Its members seek to end taxpayer support of the organization (currently $363 million in federal funding), revocation of its nonprofit status, and criminal conviction of those in the organization who fail to follow state child-abuse reporting laws.

Rose describes Planned Parenthood businesses as “dark” places whose employees are motivated to work there because “they have had an abortion themselves, want to keep their jobs and keep the abortion revenue coming in, or have a political agenda: They strongly believe in keeping abortion legal. Whatever their motivation, they have a callous disregard for human life.”

Live Action has a five-member staff and engages in a variety of activities: presenting workshops, organizing events, praying in front of abortion facilities, and communicating the pro-life message through social media. Live Action produces a news magazine, The Advocate, which is distributed to 200,000 youth. The nonprofit organization is funded by donations.

Early Start

Rose herself was one of eight children, with strongly pro-life parents. She said, “They taught me to respect human life and value every child.”

Raised Protestant, two years ago she became a Catholic. “I wanted to receive Our Lord in the holy Eucharist,” she explained.

As a teen, Rose wanted to get involved in the pro-life cause and decided to found Live Action in 2003. The Planned Parenthood investigations became part of the organization’s activities five years ago, when an 18-year-old Rose visited two Los Angeles-area Planned Parenthood facilities, posing as a 15-year-old impregnated by an adult man. Rather than reporting the alleged crime of statutory rape to the authorities, she said, the staffs of both clinics coached her to lie about the incident and encouraged her to have an abortion.

Rose has posted subsequent Planned Parenthood visits on YouTube to expose the organization, she said, prompting Planned Parenthood to threaten to sue.

But, publicizing the stings is within Live Action’s rights, said Breen. “We checked the law and were able to reassure Lila and her team that they did nothing wrong and that they should get their videos out there strongly and quickly.”

Planned Parenthood asked YouTube to remove the videos, Breen said, arguing that it was a violation of Planned Parenthood workers’ privacy. But YouTube has opted to keep the videos available, a decision Breen supports: “People doing illegal things which are publicized in the national media do not have an expectation of privacy on YouTube.”

While Rose is still young, her contribution to the pro-life cause has been significant, believes Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Illinois-based Pro-Life Action League. He commented, “She’s doing very important work. Planned Parenthood has tried to create a positive public image for itself, but Lila is helping to uncover that it is a sinister organization.”

The league has battled Planned Parenthood on a variety of fronts for decades, most recently in its effort to close a large Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Scheidler’s father, Joseph Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League and the victor of three pro-life cases that were argued at the U.S. Supreme Court, penned Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, a 1985 book that offers tips on how to put abortion facilities out of business. The league recently joined with Live Action to sponsor a national bus tour seeking the ending of taxpayer funding of abortion.

The younger Scheidler added, “Lila has been a great inspiration to the pro-life cause. She has brought youth and enthusiasm to our movement. We’re pleased to see she has helped bring about a positive change in our laws in the state of Illinois.”

Susan B. Anthony List’s deputy director, Billy Valentine, is also impressed with Rose’s work.  Valentine said, “Lila is really a trailblazer in exposing the work of Planned Parenthood and is a wonderful face for the pro-life movement.”

The Susan B. Anthony List is headquartered in Washington, D.C. It seeks to end abortion in the United States, especially through the election of pro-life candidates for public office, particularly female candidates. According to Valentine, a Franciscan University of Steubenville graduate, when Live Action released its New Jersey sting video, SBA sought to “turn public outrage into action.” When the new Congress convened earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., led an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, but the Democrat-controlled Senate defeated the measure. 

Hope in Youth

No matter the outcome of such efforts, Rose has hope, as she recognizes that her generation is more pro-life than any other since Roe v. Wade. A 2010 Gallup poll revealed that Americans ages 18 to 29 were becoming increasingly pro-life; 20 years ago, for example, 14% of young people said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances vs. 23% who hold this view today.

This is a positive sign, believes Rose, as young people reach adulthood and realize that had they been born under different circumstances they, too, could have been victims of abortion. “I was born in 1988, at a time when there was no legal protection for the unborn,” she noted.

In addition, a 2009 Gallup poll revealed that 51% of Americans described themselves as “pro-life” vs. 42% who said they were “pro-choice,” the first time the majority had been pro-life since the question was asked in 1995 (when 33% said they were pro-life and 56% pro-choice).

While Live Action’s Planned Parenthood investigations are meant to educate people of all ages, Live Action’s social-media outreach especially targets youth “sitting on the fence” about life issues.
Rose explained, “We want youth to understand the truth about abortion and to become advocates for the unborn. The odds may be against us, but we’re confident in the end that truth will win out.”

Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.