These days anti-abortion ingénue Lila Rose needs no introduction. In advertisements for this year’s Values Voter Summit, an annual conservative Christian confab, Rose was a headline attraction. While former Attorney General Edwin Meese required a note of background, Rose, like fellow speaker and antifeminist icon Phyllis Schlafly, was advertised by name alone. In LifeSiteNews, a Christian anti-abortion news service, Rose is often known simply as “Lila,” a one-name celebrity for the anti-choice right.
For those outside the fanclub, Rose is the early-20s activist and UCLA graduate who founded Live Action, an anti-abortion group that came to fame in 2008 for its high-profile “sting operation” against Planned Parenthood: a series of four taped phone calls wherein clinic employees awkwardly accepted donations targeted for black women’s abortions after Rose’s collaborator claimed he was worried about black birth rates and complained that affirmative action would decrease his own progeny’s prospects.
The sting was one of many. Rose followed this “Racism Project” with the 2008 “Mona Lisa Project,” which culminated in the release of hidden camera footage of a baby-faced Rose posing as a 13-year-old girl pregnant by her 31-year-old partner. The pained responses of clinic nurses and staff, who — head in hands — told Rose that they’re obligated to report instances of statutory rape and that she shouldn’t mention her boyfriend’s age if they were to help her access services, amounted to an even larger coup. And in 2011, Live Action released another series of stealth videos featuring a make-believe “pimp” inquiring about STD and contraceptive services for the underage or undocumented immigrant girls working for him to demonstrate its view that Planned Parenthood enables sex trafficking, too. While most clinic staff responded to the visits with suspicion, reporting license plate numbers to local and federal law enforcement, one manager came across as an eager co-conspirator, and a conspiracy theory born on the fringes of anti-abortion extremism became headline news.
Rose’s stunts netted her significant media attention, an alliance with top movement leaders and a $50,000 award from the anti-abortion and abstinence-only group, the Gerard Health Foundation. She’s also been supported with guidance from the Leadership Institute, a training ground for conservative stars, recognition as a “Young Leader” from the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List and guest appearances on the full roster of Fox News talk shows.
While the movement-building infrastructure of the Right has long been a boon to many rising conservative stars, from Bush-guru Karl Rove to far Right activist Grover Norquist, Lila Rose’s boosters are particularly enthusiastic. A homeschooling grad with seven siblings, and a pretty brunette with film aspirations, Rose is described widely, in both gushing homeschooling blog profiles and by veteran leaders of the movement, as the “fresh face” of anti-choice activism. (Fresh as an adjective for Rose is used a lot.) Or as the Boston Globe put it, she’s a girl with “the soul of Phyllis Schlafly in the body of Miley Cyrus.” That’s a combination that has long gone far in conservative politics in which the looks of female pundits of the Right are touted as their triumph over liberals, and more significantly, young women are tapped to deliver a message that seems less palatable coming from a man.