How do we truly make a difference in the world? How can we fight for justice in a broken world? Lila Rose is the author of the recent book Fighting for Life: Becoming A Force for Change In A Wounded World. In this interview, she shares the story of becoming a pro-life activist and offers some practical tips for how all of us can defend the unborn.
About our Guest
Lila Rose founded and serves as the president for Live Action, a media and news nonprofit organization dedicated to ending abortion and inspiring a culture that respect all human life. She is the host of the popular podcast The Lila Rose Show. Her website is liveaction.org and she tweets regularly at @lilagracerose.
Sean McDowell: Welcome to Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture, a podcast from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics.
Scott Rae: And I'm your co-host, Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics.
Sean McDowell: Today we're here to talk with Lila Rose who I've been looking forward to having on for a long time because she's the Founder and President of Live Action, is one of the most outspoken and really recognizable pro-life leaders today and has a fantastic new book out we want to commend to all of our listeners called Fighting for Life. Lila, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Lila Rose: Thanks for having me, gentlemen.
Sean McDowell: So let's start kind of at the beginning, how did you first even get started having your heart just kind of broken for the unborn?
Lila Rose: Well, I'm from a big family, I'm one of eight kids so I have five younger brothers and sisters, and already that sets you up for appreciating babies. Or I guess there's a lot of chaos involved too in that kind of an upbringing, but there were ultrasound pictures on the fridge growing up and my parents were really faith-filled people. I grew up in Silicon Valley in Northern California. And so they weren't pro-life activists in the sense of praying outside abortion clinics or anything like that. But they were very passionate about life and God and service.
And so that really set the stage for me to as a naturally empathetic and curious little girl for me to be interested in causes. And for me, my first moment of heartbreak about abortion, which would really be a catalyst for me starting Live Action as a teenager was when I found a book called A Handbook on Abortion. And I was really curious, I started reading it. It's a history book about abortion and its legality, but it had an insert with images in it. And these photos were showing embryonic development so you could see the humanity of the baby, but there was an image that I'll never forget, which was the image of a child maybe 10-weeks-old and you can see at 10 weeks, arms, legs and a little face, first trimester.
And this little child had been torn apart into pieces by a powerful first trimester suction abortion, which is the most prevalent abortion in America today. And I just looked at this child, I could see the humanity and I was just cut to the heart. I thought, "How can we permit this? How can this be legal? How can this be accepted?" And I wanted to learn more. I started this big journey of learning more and ultimately it would inspire me to start Live Action.
Scott Rae: So Lila, let's stay with sort of at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about your very first effort that you engaged in to help protect the unborn. And then maybe a little bit about how your approach is different today.
Lila Rose: Well, there were lots of experimental things I tried as a teen to get involved in the movement. One of them was to just pray outside an abortion clinic for the first time. I was 14, got permission from my parents, the local pregnancy center that my grandmother had volunteered at for over, I think, two decades at that point. There were counselors associated with it or people that knew people. And so I knew of a group of peace-filled Christians who would pray outside that abortion clinic. And so I show up with some friends and it changed me profoundly to be on a sidewalk where the rest of the world was busy doing its thing. There's a daycare across the street, a YMCA, it's in a residential area and there's this big brick building with these frosted over windows and they kill babies up until 24 weeks in that building. Six-months-old children who technically could survive outside the womb with medical care.
And I just stood there praying to God on the sidewalk and I felt this profound helplessness because I saw women going in, girls, young girls, some visibly pregnant. I saw tears and stressed faces. And it was just like, "How could we allow this?" And it seemed like the world didn't care. I had this feeling that people had not become awake to this crisis. And so leaving that day, I felt very compelled. People need education. They just need to know this is happening. I mean, especially Christians. And so I started by begging my youth pastor at the time to let me and some friends or to have him do it just give a presentation with facts about abortion and the pro-life case, the case for life.
Because I was convicted, I looked at the statistics. The abortion rate amongst self-professed evangelicals, Catholics is nearly identical to the abortion rate in the secular world. And I just thought, "How can we as the church not talk about this issue and let this just be the silent slaughter in our own communities?" So the start of Live Action was education. It was very church-focused. We do some of that today, of course, but now we've become this global news and media and education organization. So it's a much larger audience, but I still have that heart that I had as a teen for the church needs to wake up and some are, and it's exciting to see that, but there are many more that need to stand up.
I believe people who profess the name of Christ that this is the biblical issue of the day. I mean, the proportion of the crime, the fact that there's 2,363, over 2,300 abortions daily. There's other causes that Christians should care about, but proportionally speaking this is the leading cause of death and it's legal. And so I felt strongly at the time and more even to this day, and I know it's something you care about as well. Christians need to take responsibility and wake up.
Scott Rae: Yep. So Lila, just be a little bit more specific about how your faith guides your pro-life work.
Lila Rose: Sure. And it's been a journey. I mean, we're all I think on a journey of faith. And for me, I had a born again experience you could say as a kid. So my parents are Christian and we went to church every Sunday. So I had this strong sense Jesus is God, He loves me. He died for me. I want to follow Him. I want to accept the gift that He offers me. As a teen, I was very pro-life, I started Live Action, but I actually struggled with my faith because I had other issues going on in my life. I struggled with depression. I had some disordered eating and self-harm. There were some mental health challenges that ran in my family.
And I share about this in my book Fighting for Life. And I was trying to understand how good God ... It's that perennial question, how good God can allow evil and suffering and also on a practical level even, what does it mean to follow God? It's one thing to learn the Bible and go to church on Sundays, but I wanted my life to radically change. I wanted everything in my life to be devoted to Him. I wanted to know how to pray, how to understand morality, how to understand how to live. And so I started this journey of really investigating, you could say, Christianity and in other religions to a degree.
And then in college, I would become even more profoundly deep in my faith. I actually entered the Catholic church. I became a daily communicant. I'd go to mass every day and I transformed my prayer life, where it was everything in my life really hinged around my relationship with God in a way that I had never lived before. I mean, I tried and there was now I had mentorship and a direction to do that. And I think I would have been pro-life even without my faith in a sense that you can be pro-life and be secular, be an atheist, you can be anything and be pro-life, anti-abortion anti the killing of innocent human beings.
But it's through our faith and Christ taking on our humanity, God himself taking on our humanity and restoring us to wholeness through His sacrifice. That the possibility for healing is offered. I mean, abortion's so horrific. It's so devastating. And we know that because we know the sacredness of life and Jesus shows us that God shows us that in creating life and creating life in His image. And then we see the possibility for redemption in what Christ has done for us. I've talked to so many women and men who've had abortions in the past and I think the Christian faith has the answer to the trauma and the shame of abortion because that's such a weight to carry.
Once you realize what it is, I helped kill my own child. I mean, it's devastating. And so I think the faith for me has been personally helped me have the courage I need and teach me the lessons I need, the humility I need to grow as a leader. But on a bigger picture for our movement I think Jesus Christ is the answer to the wound of abortion in our culture and in so many hearts.
Sean McDowell: I'd love to hear you say that. And that comes through clearly in your book, just your passion for the unborn, but that you're motivated by your faith. One of the questions that I have is right now everybody's talking about social justice and justice issues applied to the marginalized. We hear it in terms of race. We hear it in terms of the LGBTQ conversation, but the unborn is left out of those who are considered marginalized. And the ironic is they are the most marginalized group. Why do you think that is culturally speaking?
Lila Rose: I think there's a number of factors going on. I consider the pro-life cause the greatest human rights issue of our day. There are other important causes, but nothing comes close to the sheer death toll of abortion. 2,300 children killed daily. And I think the reason so many in society don't see it as a human right to actually see abortion as a societal good, or they just don't think about it at all, they ignore it. But it's twofold I would say, two main reasons.
Number one is a political reason. And it's the fact that there's 100-year-old corporation called Planned Parenthood and a lot of their allies and they have $2 billion in assets, two billion in assets. They get a half of a billion a year from taxpayers. They're the biggest abortion chain and they have deep relationships at the highest levels of politics, media, arts, education, they're in our school systems. They basically wrote the platform for the Democratic Party. They even influence and have influenced some Republicans over the years. Thankfully, not as much.
They have been incredibly influential in arts and entertainment and news media. They used to give out journalists awards that were accepted by many leading journalists and their power has taken decades to build and they retain it. So people in media, arts, entertainment, politics they think being pro-abortion is the way to go because that's just what Planned Parenthood has set the stage for.
The other reasons are really a cultural one that's connected to that. But I think the sexual revolution dramatically altered our sense of morality in this country. And that was really mid 20th century where there was this uprooting of the traditional norm of and the natural norm of marriage is between a man and a woman and sex is for children and love.
Sex is not just about pleasure or what you want to do with your [inaudible] pastime or momentary pleasure. But sex is about building a life with someone else and having kid,. And that's how sex is designed. It does two things, sex. It bonds two people together, emotionally, physically, and spiritually and sex can create new life. But then with contraception, with the free love movement, with the no-fault divorce, all of these dramatic changes in how we see sex and family. All of a sudden, sex was disconnected from love and marriage. There was so much more potential for unexpected pregnancy because that sense of society looking down on, "Oh no, you should only have sex within marriage." That was totally ripped away.
And so now what do you do with people when contraception fails? 50% of the women who have abortions, this is Planned Parenthood's own statistic, their research arm's own statistic. 50% of the women who have abortions the month they got pregnant, they were using contraception. So this whole thing about safe sex, just have safe sex and then you can have sex with whomever, it's not a big deal, it's a lie. And so what needed to happen to justify that lifestyle, that amorality, that whole sexual revolution and its fruit, to sustain it you needed abortion. You needed legalized abortion. Otherwise, people can't have sex without consequences.
And so that I think has been a dramatic cultural shift. I mean, sex is being sold. I mean, lust has become and sex has become this commodity that's just commonly used everywhere. I mean, on social media, on Instagram, in marketing, pornography use has spiked. And the fallout is not just broken relationships and broken bodies with STIs and other things like that, but it's the fallout is our children, with all the children being conceived not in loving marriages, but being conceived in relationships where they're not wanting kids they're saying, "I'm not ready for a kid" and that's the reason for the abortion rate today.
So I think if we can shift our mindset on sex and love, which by the way, you're not happy. I think most people are not happy with the way things are going with relationships and dating and sex. It doesn't bring joy to have one night stands. It doesn't bring joy to be with a non-committal boyfriend. We can change our mindset on sex and family and reconnect sex with love and kids, then I think we have a chance at really changing the abortion culture.
Scott Rae: I think it's fair to say that the hookup culture doesn't exactly contribute much to human flourishing in the way that you're describing. So Lila, tell us a little bit about Live Action. What does your organization do? How did get started? How did you get sort of launched into prominence nationally? Tell us a little bit about that.
Lila Rose: Sure. So when I started Live Action as a teenager, I was doing pro-life presentations at churches in schools with other friends.
Scott Rae: You said when you were a teenager. Exactly how old were you when you started this?
Lila Rose: So I was 15 when it became officially Live Action. 14, I was starting to do activism and-
Scott Rae: Just a note to our listeners. How many of you were doing that productive at age 14 or 15?
Lila Rose: Look, it's the mercy of God. I could have gotten in a lot more trouble as a teenager without having a cause. And I talk about that in Fighting for Life just the power of a cause to really focus your life in service of others. So I'm so grateful to God for that inspiration that I had as a, as a kid. But yeah, so I started Live Action, then I get to college. I went to UCLA and I chose UCLA as this kind of mission field. I actually considered Hillsdale College. I don't know if I considered Biola, but I have a lot of great friends who went to Biola and a lot of Live Action team members who are Biola alum. Several Live Action team is Biola alum, but I wanted to go to a mission field, somewhere where I knew the pro-life message wasn't often shared and I wanted to share it.
So I get to UCLA, then I started a Live Action chapter. So at that point, Live Action was building chapters. Then long story short, I get involved in investigative reporting. So I was always into news and media. I always wanted to find a way to communicate the truth to others. Starting an independent magazine, started doing undercover reporting in abortion clinics in Los Angeles, which was I know it sounds unusual, but I was studying the topic. I looked at other investigative work that had been done by activists. I looked at the fact that no reporting was being done on abortion clinics and that launched a more national platform for Live Action because the reports that I was doing became national stories.
And part of the reason for that was Planned Parenthood threatened to sue me as a college student and there was a whole media around that. And then social media was just starting at the time. And so we started to utilize those platforms and then I launched Live Action News, a website, and soon enough we had become a leading voice in media exposing the abortion industry. And then as we built that out, I saw increasingly the opportunity to just do educational campaigns. So exposing what abortion was, showing embryonic development, providing the pro-life case, the pro-life apologetics case for life because we were building this national brand and following, we had millions of followers.
There were a lot of people tuning in and getting excited about joining the pro-life movement. So we started to just build out all of this other educational content and then opportunities for political activation, defund Planned Parenthood, fight for total abortion abolition. And so then we ended up partnering with other national groups and building these campaigns. And now we are the global leader for education in the pro-life movement. We're reaching about 15 million people weekly. And I really credit the grace of God and a lot of people along the way pitching in, believing in the vision.
And in some ways, we're just getting started because the big, hairy, audacious goal, the big vision here is to end abortion legally, culturally and to build a culture of life. And that's about human flourishing. I mean, you mentioned that phrase earlier. I believe that's what God wants for us, Christians and all people. And society and our legal systems should be set up to protect and defend human liberties and human dignity for the sake of human flourishing. And that is the endgame for Live Action, but a core step to get there is to abolish abortion because that's the greatest threat globally to human flourishing.
Scott Rae: So Lila, let's talk a little bit more about some of the undercover work that you did. Who are some of the characters that you posed as in some of this undercover work?
Lila Rose: Sure. So I've done different reports myself personally and then I've trained teams and we developed teams to do different kinds of reporting. Some of the first investigative reporting I did was on sexual abuse coverup at abortion clinics because that's a huge problem. I mean, a lot of abusers rely on abortion to keep abusing their victims because they get them pregnant and they're with these young girls. The pregnancy is kind of evidence of their crime. And so I started going undercover into abortion clinics as an underage girl as young as 13-years-old. I ended up having to bleach my hair blonde. I'm a brunette and wore glasses and ripped up jeans, kind of a teeny bopper type outfit because they had my photo up in some of the abortion clinics of myself as a brunette.
So I had to wear the disguise. So I did that a fair amount, it exposed a lot of abortion clinics wanting to cover up sexual abuse. So I'd say, "I'm 13, my boyfriend's 31. This is statutory rape. They're required by law to report it." And the Planned Parenthood worker would laugh or they would tell me how I could have the boyfriend or this abuser take me to another state for a secret abortion. I mean, just crazy, crazy stuff. And it's because the abortion mentality is abortion at all costs at any cost.
I mean, they don't see a woman in her humanity or a girl in her humanity and think about what's actually best for her. They think about, "I'm going to close an abortion sale because I think that actually is what serves women." So that was a lot of my investigative reporting in the beginning. Since then, I'm too recognizable, I'm getting a little old to do the 13-year-old approach and we've got a lot of other reports we do and those include showing sex selective abortion at abortion clinics. It shows race. We've exposed racism, medical misinformation, even the aiding and abetting of sex trafficking.
David Daleiden worked with me for years. He went on to expose Planned Parenthood selling body parts. So there's just been a lot of other reports that have been done since those early days of me going undercover.
Sean McDowell: Now you obviously expected some pushback when you did this, but can you talk a little bit about from the government, from politicians, the powers that be, how they responded and what you guys have done back in response?
Lila Rose: Of course. So over the years I've had my share of death threats and just different kinds of brutal threats. I mean, now I have a young family, so the threats are changing, threats against my family. And the political attacks, I mean, Planned Parenthood did threaten to sue me. And since then, they've kind of left us alone. We've had different lawsuit threats over the years, but they've sort of left us alone because I think they realize at least that approach backfired on them. It was not good from a publicity standpoint for them to be suing this young woman who was showing sexual abuse coverup at their clinics.
I think the biggest brunt of political attacks has actually been endured by my friend, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. She's a grandmother, a friend of mine, a really amazing person. And David, you may have heard of him, he's done some incredible work exposing Planned Parenthood's body parts. He did some of that work in California. And unfortunately. Our leadership in California is so politically corrupt and they're so in the bag for the abortion industry.
I mean, they are completely funded, most politicians in our state by Planned Parenthood. And so Kamala Harris was the attorney general and she was actually being funded by Planned Parenthood for her then Senate campaign. Before she became VP, she was Senator. And before that, she was attorney general of California. And that was the time when we were publicizing David's videos, exposing the body parts sale at Planned Parenthood facilities. I mean, just horrific stuff. And Kamala Harris at the behest of Planned Parenthood went and ultimately levied criminal charges, began criminal proceedings against David and Sandra for their investigative reporting, which is just mind-boggling because no reporter has been prosecuted by the state of California for undercover journalism.
Undercover journalism happens in California regularly. ABC, local ABC affiliates looking at chiropractor's offices with dishonest practices or medical marijuana factories. I mean, so many investigative reports with undercover elements, but when you go undercover in an abortion clinic, then the state and you and Planned Parenthood has the right strings to pull. It can lead to criminal proceedings. So that's what few of my friends are experiencing.
Besides that, politically we have a steep hill to climb at the federal level right now the Biden administration is very pro-abortion. Kamala Harris, of course, is now vice president of the whole country. And they have a lot of influence over the Justice Department of course. And so we're very concerned for our freedom of speech and the opportunity to act as pro-life activists right now and what the Biden administration could do to retaliate because they did that in California when Kamala Harris, our VP, was attorney general.
But their policies are the most concerning. I mean, the most radical abortion policies, taxpayer funding on abortion through birth is what they're trying to pass. And so it's all the more important that we fight this battle at the cultural level, in our churches, education. And we continue to provide care and support to women and families and that we fight the battle. We can win at the state level. And I am happy to say that there has been unprecedented pro-life legislation passed at the state level in the last two years and that's continuing, that trends continuing. So there are good things happening, but there are very high stakes and the political climate is very, I think, vicious particularly at the federal level right now.
Scott Rae: So Lila, you described some of the things that encouraged you about the pro-life movement, some of the laws that are being passed. What else do you find out there that's encouraging to you about the advocacy for the unborn today?
Lila Rose: I see a lot of people waking up and even changing their minds on abortion. That's a big focus of Live Action's work and our work is how do we persuade people? How do we get them facts that they otherwise wouldn't have? I see some people in the Christian community churches that are becoming more active and outspoken. There's more of, I think, a sense of urgency. I think that's the good response to the extremism of the Biden administration and the national politics.
Every time a life is saved and we get emails or messages regularly saying, "I saw your video and now I'm not having my abortion and I've chosen life." And that right there, the one life being saved because of some work that you helped do. And obviously the woman, the mother is the one who's the hero choosing life, but that you could assist her in that choice. I mean, it's all worth it. What is one life worth? What's a child's life worth? Is that child's life worth 10 years of your activism? 100%, your whole life of activism. I mean, Jesus sets that example. He gave His entire life for each of us.
So that's really the biggest hope is what can one life do, that one child you saved? God can do anything with one life. God can do anything with your life. So I think we're at a turning point. I think that if we allow the Holy Spirit to convict us and to embolden us right now, to speak, to act, to do on behalf of the most vulnerable, we can end abortion. We can change the trajectory of our country. The politics do follow the culture. The politics keep yo-yoing extremes one side to the next, but if the culture shifts strongly in one direction, it will change politics.
So I'm very, very hopeful and it's because of Christ. It's because of I can see what God can do, but it takes us to act. And that's why I'm so thrilled. I know you're passionate about this. And many of the listeners are passionate or becoming more passionate. And I think we need to let ourselves be passionate. Jesus burned the hours and days before His death and crucifixion, His passion, He's weeping over Jerusalem. He's cursing the fig tree for its fruitlessness. He's in the garden of Gethsemane weeping, sweating blood because of His agony. But the agony, that heartache He was experiencing was for the injustice and the sins of mankind, but also because He saw what's possible.
He knew the resurrection was coming and what's possible for healing and salvation. And I think we need to let ourselves in a way be tormented. If we let ourselves just be broken and open, let ourselves get angry over this. Don't live in just your normalcy and your safety in your bubble. Let yourself really feel the crisis and then be moved to action by that. If we do that, I think we can change the course of our country.
Sean McDowell: Lila, I absolutely love your passion. It comes through your Twitter feed. It comes through in your book and obviously in your speaking. In some ways, what you just said is where we should end. But there's just a question I have to ask you. In some ways, the elephant in the room that we're not going to get rid of abortion the way you're describing without addressing this. Could you talk about briefly just because we're coming towards the end, what is the link between pornography and abortion?
Lila Rose: That's such a good question. I mean, pornography, which is just an epidemic. The porn use increases each year. Child pornography use is increasing each year. It's horrific if you look into that. I think it comes down to objectifying others. When we objectify others for own satiation, our own selfish pursuits is it that surprising that we might objectify a pregnancy in a pre-born child to the point of seeing them as not human, less than human? Pornography treats people as sub-human. It reduces the person to an image for your pleasure to consume. An abortion sees a child as subhuman. It reduces a pregnancy and that precious life to a mistake or an inconvenience that can be just discarded.
So it's a radical change and renewal on sex, but that has to be taught, that has to be talked about from young ages. It needs to be part of our language as Christians and it needs to be modeled. It needs to be modeled in how we treat each other, how we treat our spouses, how we don't divorce. I mean, there's real implications for Christians here. It's not just enough to say, "Oh, porn is bad. Abortion is bad." It has to change how we live. And that can be hard to have those hard conversations in the church.
Sean McDowell: Lila, that connection you made is so important because at the heart of any Christian ethic is that people no matter their race, their age, their sex in the womb or out of the womb are made in God's image and have infinite dignity value and worth. What pornography does is turn somebody into an object that you use and it's the same spirit within abortion. So having our listeners hear that and take that to heart, I think it's a very, very powerful truth. And I so appreciate you speaking boldly on this and the other issues.
I can't thank you enough for coming on the show, Lila. I want to encourage our listeners to follow you on Twitter. Just search Lila Rose and you'll come up on Twitter. You're a fireball in the best sense. You give resources, you give encouragement. I follow you regular and also I hope our listeners will pick up a copy of your book Fighting for Life. Both Scott and I read it and we were chatting before how it's insightful. It's timely. It's kind of this call to action telling people, "Hey, you can do it no matter where you're at. You can make a difference for the unborn." I think that's exactly what we need right now. So thanks again so much for coming on the show.
Lila Rose: Thank you so much for having me.
Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. The Think Biblically podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. We offer programs in Southern California and fully online now, including our new, this is just new fully online. We've had the program for years, a master's in Christian apologetics, which I teach in. If you just go to biola.edu/talbot, you can learn more.
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