Speak softly and carry a big recording device

lila_roseBack in December, Daniel Pulliam looked at the rather curious lack of coverage pertaining to undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees providing advice that could violate Indiana criminal statutes. A University of California - Los Angeles student, posing as a 13-year-old impregnated by a 31-year-old boyfriend, had taped Planned Parenthood counselors at two Indiana clinics telling her how to avoid state laws about parental-consent on abortion and the reporting of child sex-abuse. The thing is that a pro-life group has caught Planned Parenthood counselors all across the country doing the same thing -- in Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Tucson, Phoenix and Memphis.

When I read of the most recent sting operation in the Baptist Press rather than in a major mainstream paper, I couldn't believe that such a fascinating and provocative story was being more or less covered up by the mainstream media. Pause to imagine what media coverage might look like if an independent group was discovering that Catholic clergy or some other religious group were violating sex abuse laws.

Well, the Los Angeles Times just wrote a lengthy profile of Lila Rose, the 20-year-old who has been catching Planned Parenthood counselors on camera in embarrassing and potentially law-breaking scenarios. Finally!

Here's how the story begins:

The girl's voice in the videotape is tiny and tentative. She is talking to a nursing aide in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bloomington, Ind. The girl wants an abortion.

The aide explains that the girl will need a parent's consent because she is only 13.

The girl balks; she does not want to name the father.

"Cause, I mean, he would be in really big trouble," says the girl. Her boyfriend, she explains, is 31.

The aide drops her head into her hands.

"In the state of Indiana," says the aide, "when anyone has had intercourse and they are age 13 or younger . . . it has to be reported to Child Protective Services."

There is a 60-second gap in the tape, according to the running timer on the video. What happens next is meant to be explosive.

"OK," says the aide, "I didn't hear the age. I don't want to know the age. It could be reported as rape. And that's child abuse."

"So if I just say I don't know who the father was, but he's one of the guys at school or something?" asks the girl.

"Right," says the aide, who has just stepped into a carefully laid trap.

The article is somewhat sympathetic to Planned Parenthood. And reporter Robin Abcarian seems more interested in exposing Rose's background than Planned Parenthood's alleged crimes. But I'm not quibbling because a) it's a profile of Rose and b) I'm just so happy that someone is actually reporting on what has been a major story for many months.

Rose says she is dedicating her life to "ending the injustice of abortion" -- something The Times translates as an effort to "undermine legal abortion." Planned Parenthood officials, for what it's worth, say that mistakes are inevitable but they deny that the problem is widespread. But Rose's work is having an impact:

On Wednesday, Tennessee lawmakers said they would seek to end a $721,000 contract with Planned Parenthood, citing outrage over what they saw in a video Rose had posted two days earlier from a Memphis clinic. She posed there in July as a 14-year-old impregnated by a 31-year-old; a Planned Parenthood staffer says, "Just say you have a boyfriend, 17 years old, whatever."

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend a grant worth nearly $300,000 to Planned Parenthood after people who'd seen the videos expressed concern over the issues raised in the videos. In Indiana, one nurse's aide was allegedly fired and another staffer allegedly resigned. A grand jury is investigating whether Planned Parenthood violated the law. Planned Parenthood also might be training Indiana staff to follow the law in response to the undercover videos.

The story shows that Planned Parenthood considers Rose's work to be a threat:

Planned Parenthood is treading carefully with Rose. Though the organization does not want to be seen as engaging in a David vs. Goliath struggle with a college student -- albeit one with stellar connections -- it has not ignored her.

In May 2007, Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles accused Rose of breaking state privacy laws when she secretly taped her interactions. It demanded she remove the videos from her website, which she did, though they are still easily found on YouTube.(Arizona, Indiana and Tennessee, where she went next, have less restrictive privacy laws.)

For Rose, the threat was a badge of honor: "They are on the lookout for me," she told an audience of conservative Christian activists at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington in September. "When I walk into Planned Parenthoods across the country, I am flattered to see my picture on the wall. It is because to Planned Parenthood, I am -- quote -- a 'known anti-choice extremist.' This is one of the better compliments I have received."

A picture of the attractive college student accompanies The Times story as well. It would be great to include a response from Planned Parenthood about how they're handling the specific threat of Rose and whether that means including pictures of her. There's just so much I'm curious about and now that we have our first profile, I hope we'll see more about Rose, her group's work and the response by Planned Parenthood.

The story, I should note, also gives us a proper amount of detail about Rose's religious background. Sometimes when it comes to abortion-related stories, we see the religion of pro-lifers highlighted and the religious views of pro-choicers ignored. In both cases, religion may or may not have much to do with the views of the parties. A balance is in order. But, again, the most important thing is that when a 20-year-old activist is having a huge impact on the way people view the country's largest abortion provider, that should be covered by more than niche media outlets. So good work, LA Times, for doing the story.

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