Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jeff Norman Headshot

Antiabortion Activist Takes on Planned Parenthood with Hidden Camera

Posted: Updated:

As someone who participated in one of the most audacious hidden camera pranks ever perpetrated, the April 26 Los Angeles Times article about pro-life activist Lila Rose and her clandestine video recordings naturally caught my attention. For the past three years, Rose, accompanied by a colleague, has been visiting Planned Parenthood clinics around the country where she or her companion poses as an adolescent who claims to have been impregnated by an adult.

Each of the encounters has been surreptitiously videotaped and can be seen on YouTube as well as on the website of Rose's nonprofit organization, Live Action. The idea is to expose what Rose contends is Planned Parenthood's institutionalized failure to report child sexual abuse as required by law.

I recently interviewed Rose, now a 20-year-old student at UCLA, about her 2008 visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Memphis where she had pretended to be a pregnant 14-year-old (two months shy of 15) who had conceived with her fictional 31-year-old boyfriend.

Click here to listen to the interview.

The video of Rose's Memphis sting cites a Tennessee statute requiring anyone with knowledge or suspicion of "child sexual abuse" to "immediately" report it to authorities. But that law applies only to alleged victims who are "under thirteen (13) years of age." When I asked Rose why Planned Parenthood is legally obligated to report her hypothetical boyfriend even though she had claimed to be nearly 15, she replied, "You could say...technically they didn't have to report it [but] that's not the issue here."

It sure is the issue on Live Action's website, where it says the group's efforts are intended to "lead to prosecution and reforms at Planned Parenthood so that their business practices will be forced to comply with governing laws that protect young girls." The stated mission magically became irrelevant as soon as Rose was told her argument hinges on a law that doesn't even apply to the scenario she had fabricated in Memphis.

Moreover, Rose offered no explanation as to why Planned Parenthood would subordinate its own priorities to hers. Regardless of how anyone feels about terminating an unwanted pregnancy, it's only prudent for a clinic worker to hesitate before reporting the unidentified boyfriend of a client to cops. Unless she can produce evidence that someone failed to comply with a legal requirement, Rose's crusade is dubious at best.

Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization with 30,000 employees and volunteers at over 800 clinics, has never been convicted of violating any law. If Rose were really confident about having uncovered a pattern of criminality, it seems her primary target would be those who keep refusing to hold the alleged offenders accountable. Instead, she dwells on how she thinks abortion providers should serve as police informants.

In an April 24 email sent to Tennessee legislators, Barry Chase, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, wondered about "the almost ten month delay in release of a video" that Rose believes contains evidence of a crime. When I asked her why she had waited so long to notify authorities, Rose said she's not required to report crimes because she's a journalist. Nonetheless, she apparently does make it a practice to provide prosecutors with copies of her videos. The question about why she doesn't do so promptly remains unanswered and is an especially perplexing mystery considering how much Rose proselytizes about the legal and moral obligation to protect children.

Although she forgives herself readily, Rose won't cut Planned Parenthood any slack. For example, she harshly condemns the staffer in Memphis who said she should "lie to a judge." It's true the employee remarked at one point, "Just say you have a boyfriend, 17-years-old, whatever." But since she also told Rose the judge wouldn't even ask her about the "boyfriend," it seems the intent was not to encourage perjury, but to allay a teenager's unfounded worries about the purpose of a particular judicial hearing.

Furthermore, the staffer agreed to keep only the initial conversation "confidential" and said the "boyfriend" would "get in trouble" if the clinic's manager were to become aware of the situation. (Apparently, the woman who advised Rose no longer works for Planned Parenthood.)

In the Memphis video, Rose appears to be nervous and says near the outset that she doesn't want to incriminate her "boyfriend." When I suggested it would have been counterproductive to call the cops at that point, Rose became exasperated and demanded I clarify my logic before continuing the interview. Obligingly, I explained how a heavy-handed approach might cause a frightened 14-year-old to flee and never return. I told Rose it would probably be better to build trust and determine identities prior to notifying the police, especially since the "boyfriend" was expected to accompany his "girlfriend" to the clinic and court appearance. "That doesn't make any sense," Rose exclaimed, "That's preposterous."

After I informed her that Planned Parenthood had denied my interview request, Rose touted her own, supposedly more forthcoming disposition. But according to Robin Abcarian, the reporter who interviewed her for the Los Angeles Times, Rose was a very reluctant subject who, on the advice of a publicist, would answer questions only by email. Rose attributes the imposition of that unusual condition to her busy schedule, as if writing is less time-consuming than oral communication.

Abcarian told me she spent months pursuing Rose, and even offered "to fly anywhere she was speaking in order to make it easier for her." The Times staffer added that Rose "usually took days to respond and sometimes did not respond at all to my follow up questions."

Rose is certainly entitled to accept or reject interview requests as she pleases, but her unsubstantiated accusations about the Memphis clinic have cast significant doubt on her credibility. So has the fact she spent almost ten months calling for a criminal prosecution before she bothered to contact prosecutors.

If I were the sole witness to a crime, I wouldn't tell everybody except the authorities about it, and then complain the alleged culprit had escaped punishment.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Jeff Norman blogs at CitizenJeff.com.