How Silicon Valley’s Lila Rose Became the Face of Millennial Anti-Abortion Activism

Lila Rose has had a very good year.

In October, she starred in a just-released mini-documentary from The Atlantic about the anti-abortion organization she founded in her parents’ San Jose living room at age 15. Then she got married and went on a honeymoon, posting to Instagram from the beach with her new, extremely clean-cut husband in matching blue and white outfits. And in the same month, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed a justice who will likely do more to end abortion than anyone in recent history.

Reproductive justice advocates are preparing for the biggest rollback of abortion rights in decades, and the mood among pro-choice women and sexual assault survivors is low. “It scares me for my daughters and their friends,” says Laura Jimenez, executive director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. But Rose told The Atlantic she was “excited to be alive” during this time, when abortion could become illegal everywhere.

Rose, now 30, became a high-profile anti-abortion activist after she pretended to be a 13-year-old and infiltrated Planned Parenthood in 2008, making hoaxy videos that she hoped would get the organization defunded. Even with heavy Breitbart promotion that led to a Congressional investigation, the videos didn’t affect Planned Parenthood’s national funding. “The videos were heavily edited and fraudulently obtained, and ultimately there was no finding of wrongdoing,” says Lupe Rodriguez, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte and board member at ACCESS: Women’s Health Justice. But they put Live Action, the nonprofit she founded as a homeschooled 15-year-old in her parents’ San Jose living room, on the map.

It’s a right-wing version of the Silicon Valley startup narrative, except Rose is marketing herself; these days, she leads a team of about 20 employees in an Arlington, Virginia, office, the millennial figurehead for the same anti-abortion tactics that groups like Operation Rescue have been using for decades. Rose calls pro-choice feminism “antiquated,” but nothing about Live Action’s opposition to abortion, birth control, and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is modern; one in four American women of reproductive age will have an abortion, 98 percent of sexually active women have used birth control at some point, and IVF is old news in Silicon Valley, a hotbed of tech fertility companies that are based around its possibilities.

Neither is Silicon Valley known for its anti-abortion activism, though it’s home to plenty of Catholics. Rose converted to Catholicism in 2009, before the church’s pedophilia scandals broke open. These days, adult conversion is not popular: for every convert, about six Catholics leave the church, and only 16 percent of millennials say they’re Catholic. But Catholics are overrepresented on the Supreme Court—Kavanaugh was the fifth Catholic on a court of nine—and the religious belief that abortion is murder could define what the rest of us can do what our bodies for generations.

A Supreme Court poised to roll back protections on body autonomy feels especially extreme at a time when #MeToo has reshaped consequences for sexual harassment and in a county that recalled a judge that voters deemed too lenient on a rapist. Stanford professor Michele Dauber, who led the Judge Aaron Persky recall and founded the Enough is Enough political action committee, thinks we’re in a new moment. In the Obama era, she says, there was broad consensus “that women should be captains of their own fate, and they should be able to decide when and under what conditions they have sex and and when and under what conditions they have babies.”

But Kavanaugh’s confirmation indicates that things have changed. “That consensus is starting to break apart under the pressure of Trumpism,” Dauber says.

The moment might be new, but Rose’s work feels old-school. Her organization uses the same grisly photos of fetuses that protesters have always used outside abortion clinics, now with the addition of memes, like the one on her social media pages that compares photos of slavery and the Holocaust to abortion (Rose is neither black nor Jewish, and Facebook blocked the photo, calling it “hate speech”). Her Twitter background is a direct echo of the Women’s March logo: same colors, same silhouette-style image, except the woman in the image has a pregnant belly with a fetus. Her tweets skip weekends, as if she’s employed someone to do her social media and they take Saturdays and Sundays off.

That’s hard to know, since the “who we are” page on LiveAction’s website lists no other staff members, as if Rose is the only person in the organization. Even her Instagram feed, featuring screenshots from her Fox interviews and carefully posed selfies, is oddly impersonal. (Among the 174 accounts she follows: Chris Pratt, Sean Hannity, some friars, a lot of bridal designers and someone whose handle is “catholicwifecatholiclife.” She does not follow Rep. Steve King, the openly white supremacist Iowa congressman who spoke at a recent Live Action press conference and said he’s a “big fan” of her work.)

Perhaps the hope is for Rose’s polished image, piped into Fox News viewers’ homes, to legitimize the sometimes violent tactics of the anti-abortion movement. When three people were murdered at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in 2015, pro-choice groups linked the attack to Rose’s latest round of videos. Rose’s friends at Operation Rescue—she promotes the same anti-abortion films as they do and shares their videos—were known for their “Wanted” posters of abortion doctors, several of those doctors were eventually murdered.

But Rose is a leader for winning times, and abortion foes are winning. She doesn’t need to be scrappy and terrifying like the evangelical extremists camped out in front of midwestern abortion clinics in the early ‘90s. She also, apparently, doesn’t need to speak with any media she deems less than fawning. Rose skipped out on a long-planned interview with San Jose Inside/Metro; her communications director cited surprise late travel before press time. She can simply appear on TV and smile on her tightly-curated Instagram feed, secure in the knowledge that reproductive rights are fading in America.

That fade could be gradual, but it does seem likely. Usually, when states pass anti-abortion laws that seem unconstitutional, higher courts shut them down. But with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and the Trump administration stacking lower courts with young anti-abortion judges, we might see fewer of those laws get overturned in the early stages. “Many of these laws and policies have also been explicitly about teeing up the court cases that would make it to a changed Supreme Court and give the court the opportunity to yes, overturn Roe, but more realistically, gut the protections that it affords,” said Megan Donovan, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual reproductive rights think tank.

States are already vastly unequal in what they provide: Kentucky and Missouri each have only one clinic that does abortions, which means there are only a few doctors, it’s further to travel if you need to end a pregnancy, protests are all focused on the single clinics, and legislation can get passed specifically to make those individual clinics harder to run.

For anyone needing reproductive health care in red states, that’s a problem, especially if Texas is the model, with its far-right-controlled legislature and governorship. Five years ago, Texas state senator Wendy Davis tried to filibuster an anti-abortion law for 13 hours in pink running shoes, with a roaring packed capitol building behind her. She staved off the law for a night, but Gov. Rick Perry convened a special session to ram it through, and 19 abortion clinics closed immediately afterwards. That means there’s nowhere to get an abortion in the 552 miles between San Antonio and El Paso. Laws requiring extreme inspections and arcane building codes mean that states like Kentucky and Missouri have only abortion clinic each.

Cynics say the right might not want to overturn Roe v. Wade itself, since its existence drives right-wing voter turnout for anyone who promises to get rid of it. Instead, the idea is to close abortion clinics one by one, until they’re concentrated in blue states and it’s almost impossible to get an abortion in most of the country. “It’s more likely that the court would stop short of overturning Roe but alter the legal framework and make more and more restrictions on abortion constitutional, to the point that the protections of Roe would be rendered essentially meaningless,” says Donovan.

But California is not immune to this strategy, either. Rose cheered on social media this month after Gov. Jerry Brown inexplicably vetoed a bill that would have allowed abortion pills on University of California campuses, calling it “unnecessary,” even though Berkeley students couldn’t get their campus to provide the medication and the law passed in the Assembly and Senate by a wide margin. At a time when young people were reminding each other to stock up on emergency contraception in case it disappears, Brown handed anti-abortion activists a victory on his way out of office. “It was not in line with other bold moves that California has been making in shoring up people’s rights, especially in light of what’s been happening with the Trump administration,” says Jimenez.

The Supreme Court ruled against California in June when it said “pregnancy crisis centers” that masquerade as abortion clinics and convince unsuspecting patients to carry their pregnancies to term are allowed to maintain their facade. The clinics don’t provide help with rent after the baby is born or free child care so you can keep your job or stay in school, and California’s high cost of living makes an unintended pregnancy even more difficult to manage.

Those political decisions mean reproductive rights advocates in California can’t focus all their attention on supporting other states. It means they have to put at least some energy into protecting what rights Californians already have. Those rights are pretty solid; California is considered a model for pro-choice legislation, especially because our state constitution explicitly protects the right to abortion. As long as Roe v. Wade remains law, Californians will have access to abortion, even as other states squeeze out their clinics. The state also allows advanced-practice clinicians to provide abortions in the first trimester. “That allows for more providers and more access to a broader range of providers that can perform abortion,” says Donovan.

That makes California a good place to train the resistance, in addition to providing abortions for out-of-state travelers. “We already see women from other states coming to California for care,” Rodriguez says. “If things are further restricted in other parts of the country, we’ll see more of that.”

But access is still an issue here. Medi-Cal covers abortion, which is the best possible insurance scenario to allow everyone who needs an abortion to get one. But the high cost of living in California means that for many people, the list of financial hurdles for getting an abortion is long. “Just because something is legal in the state does not make it accessible,” Jimenez says. “Do I have paid sick leave? Even if I do have paid sick leave, do I have child care? Do I have transportation to get where I need to go? Do I have a place to stay if I have to go someplace overnight?” Rodriguez’s Bay Area-based ACCESS: Women’s Health Justice raises funds to cover those costs as part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, which counts over 70 member organizations providing financial support for abortions across the country.

And threats to exclude Planned Parenthood from receiving funding through Medicaid, the ostensible goal of Rose’s attack videos, would directly affect access to abortion in California. “Eight-seven percent of the patients we see are dependent on some form of federal funding for the services we provide, and if we weren’t able to see them anymore, because we wouldn’t be reimbursed for their care, they wouldn’t have anywhere to go,” says Rodriguez. According to Rodriguez, “about 95 percent” of the health care Planned Parenthood provides is preventive and primary care—birth control prescriptions, STI testing and treatment, prenatal care in the Central Valley, hormone therapy for transgender patients in some locations, and even pediatrics and behavioral health care - and that would disappear if federal funding were cut.

Live Action avoids many underlying questions behind the policies they support, including that life starts at fertilization and contraception is as bad as abortion. The idea seems to be that if you’re not having procreative sex in a heterosexual marriage, you shouldn't have sex at all. But that’s contrary to what 95 percent of Americans do.

For Rodriguez, Rose’s positions don’t match the public health reality of a sexually active public, nor do they align with what most people believe. “Young people, and all people really, are not abstaining from sexual activity,” she says. “A lot of this is about who should be having sex with whom and when,” Jimenez adds. “What we’re saying when we condemn young people for having an abortion is saying you shouldn’t have been having sex in the first place because you’re young.”

“Would Jesus agree?” one of Rose’s followers asked when a guy on Twitter wanted Rose to butt out of people’s sex lives. “Who cares?” he answered. That’s the big question, the vast gap between those who’ve just stacked the Supreme Court and everyone else. The debate rages, but the shift away from legalized body autonomy is already underway, and the impact will be generational.

“This is violence that’s being done to our communities, and it’s going to have a long term effect that we are going to have to reconcile,” Jimenez says. “We’re going to have to call on our leaders to be responsible for that.”

12 Comments

  1. Dear Tori, I didn’t have the pleaser of getting you pregnant, why as a tax payer do I have to pay for your normal heterosexual behavior?

    Second there still is no place in the Bill of Rights after nearly 50 years that says any of us has a right to end a life with an abortion. Near as I can tell no one has even proposed amending the Constitution to do so. Yet you same people are more than to throw the rest of the Bill of Rights under the bus to get ride of so called hate speech, religion, guns or even a right of the presumption of innocence.

    Don’t like the idea that you have to spend money to get your word out and fight battles in other states over abortion,
    you must be in complete sympathy right wingers that had their tax exempt 5o1c3 crushed for 8 years by a government conspiracy run by the Great American Dictator Barrack H Obama!

    Did you have any sympathy for those Catholic organization that had their rights trampled, were forced to close because the full weight the government run by left wing judges run amuck for the last 25 years.

    Abortion right or wrong is here to stay and the same states that will screw the taxpayer with open boarders and sanctuary city’s and free pot will have no problem paying to get rid of your welfare baby. So go create hysteria it generates lots of cash for politicians the never quite get it done, or maybe you could just pay for some poor deserving momma that didn’t want to pay for $6 for her monthly supply of pills.

  2. > But Rose is a leader for winning times, and abortion foes are winning.

    Hmmmm.

    Tori seems distressed.

    I can imagine that if all the abortniks keep aborting themselves, the only people left on the planet will be . . . Lila Rose, and her family, friends, and humans who feel good about their species.

  3. “It scares me for my daughters and their friends,” says Laura Jimenez, executive director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.

    Abortion was legal in California before Roe v. Wade and would still be legal in California if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned. California had a “semester” system: abortion was legal in the first 4-1/2 months and illegal during the second 4-1/2 months. The Roe v. Wade opinion cites the California law and New York’s, which was a “trimester” system.

    So quit the hysteria — California Latinas can go on having abortions no matter what the U. S. Supreme Court eventually does. And if her daughter’s an Alabaman, she’ll still be able to come home for the weekend and get one.

  4. Lila Rose- and Live Action – is simply articulating an opinion still held by a majority of Americans.

    Until there is as much support for a single woman who chooses to keep her unborn child as there is pressure to abort it, women will forever be subjected to an impossible choice as being her only option. Abortion is not a choice at this point, it is the ONLY solution presented to women who are single, want a career, want to be well-educated etc. Where is the empowerment movement for women who want to keep their babies? Where is the church? Where is the women’s movement? Where is the government? Where is the college counselor who can direct the scared, pregnant college student to childcare resources and baby supplies? Oh wait, these things don’t exist for women because why would they when she can just go get an abortion.

    Lila cares more about what is good and right for women than anyone else I have seen try to articulate the false dichotomy that has been presented as legitimate choice to women since Roe v. Wade.

    Morality aside: There is ZERO ground to stand on for those claiming to support women’s reproductive rights when you evaluate for continuity of message for EVERY aspect of reproductive rights – including but not limited to: Maternity leave, childcare support, pre and post-natal care. When these things are AS WELL FUNDED AND AS ARDENTLY ADVOCATED FOR as the right a woman has to an abortion, let’s talk.

  5. The arguments for abortion ring more hollow by the day. Most of us just shrugged and said “what can you do, it is legal and these women are in desperate shape” but the open cheering for it during the Irish referendum and the Michelle Wolf skit pushed many over the top. We sat by and tried to imagine the difficulty in being in such a position and conceded when advocates said we should have them, but they should be rare. They no longer say that, activists cheer abortions like fans cheer touchdowns at a football game, marching band and all.

    Once conception happens, that child is adapting to its environoment epigentically, “Almost 25% of the genes spotted on the array (n = 7519) were differentially expressed between first and third trimester “, (Sitras 2012). The child in the womb is not only a combination of their mother’s and father’s DNA and a unique soul, their genes are engaging with their environment to shape thier personality, metabolism, and all sorts of other behaviors that make that child an authentic person of this world and time.

    There have been over 60,000,000 surgical abortions have been conducted since Roe v Wade and acording to Guttmacher Insistitute, 780,000 babies were aborted after the 21st week, which even abortion supporters attest is well past the point of the child feeling pain. Some studys have concluded that a child feels pain at 8 weeks, which would mean 20,000,000 children were killed experiencing pain. Additionally the Guttmacher Institute points out Black and Hispanic children are aborted at more than 2.7 that of whites, which is strong evidence of systemic racism.

    There are many alternatives we could persue to help Americans better manage thier lives, teach the benefits of abstence, invest in improved and less intrusive birth control for both sexes, encourage adoption, education on better strategies to be a care taker, and invest in improving to the morning after pill which can handle many of the valid concerns women raise on incest and rape.

  6. And now a word from Margaret Sanger, the goddess of Abortion and the Founder of Planned Parenthood;

    “(There is a group in society who) are those irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequences of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped”.

    Hmm, since the majority of those who get government funded abortions at places like Planned Parenthood, and elsewhere, are lower socio-economic types, why stop it? I am against abortion but Sanger’s rationale for supporting it is unarguably practical. Cull out the weak, and stupid, and the social parasites. These are people that Sanger herself referred to as “human weeds”.

    Sanger stated “No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child, and no man shall have the right to become a father, without a permit for parenthood (government issued).”

    Wasn’t there some European guy, also pro-abortion and a contemporary of Sanger, who used the term “Untermensch” just as Sanger did “human weeds”? No matter, abortion is too important a right to be challenged by trivial ethical concerns.

    Ah yes, Government funding for abortion clinics, equals; Government control of abortion clinics, equals; Government deciding who needs to be aborted. Maybe I’m just being cynical and silly but I think I may have found a final solution to the homeless problem. When I think of abortion, I wonder; Am I the only one who hears the song “Die Fahne Hoch (Horst Wessel Lied)” in the back of his mind? Nah. Can’t happen.

  7. > and the religious belief that abortion is murder could define what the rest of us can do what our bodies for generations.

    Many people ALSO hold the religious belief that splitting someone’s skull with a machete is murder, and that religious belief could likewise define what the rest of us can do with our bodies.

    You can’t use your body to swing a machete at someone else’s skull.

    People’s religious beliefs CAN and DO define what you can do with your body.

  8. > Then she got married and went on a honeymoon, posting to Instagram from the beach with her new, extremely clean-cut husband in matching blue and white outfits.

    Married?

    Extremely clean-cut husband?

    Matching blue and white outfits?

    What is Tori trying to say here? That Lila Rose wouldn’t pass the Silicon Valley Democratic Club inclusivity test?

    “Umm. Lila. Who’s the extremely clean-cut looking dork clinging to your elbow?”

    “Why don’t you just lighten up and mingle with some of the grubby horndogs here. Adolescent stubble is manly, in a soy boy sort of way. And body odor is just a natural aphrodisiac.”

  9. S.J.O.Bubble,

    Wait. I think you might be missing the point. Isn’t the fetus or embryo , particularly one of lower socio-economic (or non-Aryan !?!) class, just an “Untermensch”, unworthy of consideration and nothing more than a subhuman blob that must yield itself to the “body politic”? When you can label a life as just a blob of extraneous tissue ( Gosnell notwithstanding, life begins at cell division with any other life form other than, apparently a human) it’s simple to extend that out. It’s been done before.

    I can’t wait to see how protective these “Sangar-ites” and “vaginistas” get when we find bacteria on Mars. It will undoubtedly get more protection and respect than a fetus. I’m really not all that fond of people either but I can’t abide just killing them because they are an inconvenience. There’s better reasons to do it than that.

  10. I saved a little news item (text below) for at least ten years now. It’s about a guy named Orville Burheimer. Every year around Christmas I email it out to all the folks on my Contacts list.

    Maybe there should be an Orville Burkheimer Award, because Mr. Burkheimer…

    …once single-handedly emptied a Planned Parenthood abortion mill waiting room.

    One Christmas Eve morning he walked in dressed as Santa, and offered each of the 14 moms a gift for their baby. He instructed them to open the gift with their child the following Christmas.

    One by one, gift in hand, the moms left until the room was empty. And so was Santa’s bag.

    Thank you, Orville.

    That’s better than killing your child, no?


    

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