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POLITICS-US: Anti-Abortion Movement Has New Poster Child

OAKLAND, California, May 28 2009 (IPS) - She’s a politically savvy history student at the University of California, Los Angeles who is appearing on countless conservative talk radio programmes and cable television news shows.

She was given the 2008 Person of the Year Malachi Award, by the longtime anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, and received a 50,000-dollar grant from an anti-abortion philanthropist.

On her campus, she is campaigning to urge the administration to cut ties with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a national provider of sexual and reproductive health services.

Meet Lila Rose, 20, the president of Live Action Films, and the new face of the anti-abortion movement.

Rose’s emergence onto the national stage comes at a time when President Barack Obama, who supports the legal right to abortion, is nevertheless seeking “common ground” on the issue.

Recent cabinet appointments, particularly the naming of the pro-choice former governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, to head up the Department of Health and Human Services, have infuriated movement activists. An invitation to the president to speak at the University of Notre Dame, a prestigious Catholic university, sparked an enormous controversy.

Now, anti-abortion activists are gearing up to battle Obama’s first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor.

The anti-abortion movement has been buoyed by a recent Gallup Poll that found that U.S. citizens appear to be shifting their views on abortion: 51 percent now call themselves “pro-life” and 42 percent “pro-choice”. This is the first time since Gallup began polling on the issue in 1995 that a majority of U.S. adults are identifying themselves as pro-life.

Rose’s attack on Planned Parenthood has inspired anti-abortion activists all across the country. One fascinating aspect of her story is how quickly she has become connected to the broader Christian conservative movement, receiving legal and public relations support, education training, philanthropic grants, financial awards, and a tonne of publicity from longtime conservative media operations.

Since 2006, Rose has been going into Planned Parenthood clinics pretending to be a young teenager impregnated by an older man. She described her work by saying that she goes into these clinics in order “to illustrate the abuses and the lawlessness that goes on inside these clinics regularly.” Rose tries to entice a Planned Parenthood staff or volunteer to violate the law by telling her to lie about the ages of their adult boyfriends.

A boiled down – and dramatically enhanced – version of her videos is posted on Rose’s website and You Tube. While surreptitious encounters at Planned Parenthood clinics in Indianapolis, Indiana, Memphis, Tennessee, Los Angeles, California, and Tucson, Arizona may never garner Susan Boyle-type numbers, nevertheless, they could have an effect on the operations and future government funding of Planned Parenthood.

“There is this stereotype of who we pro-life leaders are, and for the most part it would be white middle-aged religious men trying to impose their will on women,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. “So now with Lila, you bring this young, fresh college student that completely blows any stereotypes away. No one is going to accuse Lila of being mean, vindictive and harsh.”

Rose’s work “is an update of an old tactic invented by Mark Crutcher of the Denton, Texas-based group Life Dynamics, whose efforts were carried out by telephone and the conversations were primarily with receptionists,” Frederick Clarkson, a longtime researcher into the anti-abortion movement, told IPS.

Rose grew up in San Jose, California, was home-schooled and later attended a part-time Christian school and a junior college. She founded Live Action when she was 15 years old, giving anti-abortion presentations at schools and to youth groups. Over the past few years, she attended workshops at the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based educational foundation that teaches conservatives how to polish their communication skills.

While a freshman at UCLA, she and James O’Keefe came up with the idea to infiltrate clinics. O’Keefe was the founder of The Rutgers Centurian, a conservative magazine published at New Jersey’s Rutgers University.

Rose’s work is having an impact. Earlier this year, legislators in Tennessee said they “would seek to end a 721,000-dollar contract with Planned Parenthood, citing outrage over what they saw in a [Rose] video,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

That video, from July of last year, has Rose posing as a 14-year-old who was impregnated by a 31-year-old. A Planned Parenthood staffer tells her: “Just say you have a boyfriend, 17 years old, whatever.”

The Orange County (California) Board of Supervisors also “voted to suspend a grant worth nearly 300,000 dollars to Planned Parenthood that was earmarked for sex education, not abortions… [after] a conservative Tustin businessman raised the issue with Supervisor John Moorlach after meeting Rose and seeing her videos,” the Times reported.

According to Clarkson, co-founder of the blog Talk2Action, “health workers trying to be compassionate and helpful towards a young person in trouble find themselves in a tricky situation; exploited in order to produce antiabortion propaganda.”

Clarkson pointed out that “In the previous campaign, activists tried, with little success, to get district attorneys to investigate. No charges were ever brought anywhere in the U.S. Law enforcement came to understand that the entire enterprise was a political publicity stunt. However, the new effort is to demagogue the issue to get states and localities to terminate grants and contracts to Planned Parenthood, and this has apparently already met with some success.”

These days, Rose, who has received considerable publicity from anti-abortion media outlets, is surrounded by a veteran group of conservative supporters. Last September she was a featured speaker at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit.

The Alliance Defence Fund, a Christian legal group, has given her free legal advice; she is receiving support from the Washington, D.C.-based CRC Public Relations, a conservative PR firm that played a role in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign that targeted Democrat John F. Kerry during the 2004 presidential race.

Earlier this year, Rose received 50,000 dollars as a winner of the Gerard Health Foundation’s inaugural Life Prizes awards. The foundation is a Massachusetts-based charity founded by Raymond Ruddy, a Catholic businessman who has funded antiabortion campaigns and abstinence-only sex education projects.

Rose’s efforts are “unfair of course, because no actual crimes have been committed, and it is entirely for propaganda purposes,” Frederick Clarkson pointed out. “We can contrast this with the actual sex crimes committed by Catholic priests against children. No one has demanded that the government end grants and contracts with Catholic agencies such as Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Charities over this.

“In addition, surveys show that Planned Parenthood has an excellent reputation. This is problematic for the anti-abortion cause, and so there have been attacks over many years to damage Planned Parenthood’s public image, and I fully expect them to continue.”

*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column “Conservative Watch” documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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