WASHINGTON — Most people their age don’t know their Roes from their Wades.
But on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that extended privacy rights to include a woman’s decision to have an abortion, Kristan Hawkins, 28, and Lila Rose, 25, are central players in the anti-abortion movement’s resurgence.
They cheered last year as seven states stiffened restrictions on the qualifications of abortion providers, and 10 others made it more difficult to access the pills used for medical abortions.
“Both of them are absolutely pivotal in the shifting tide of the pro-life movement,” said David Bereit, founder of 40 Days for Life, which encourages people to pray and fast to end abortion. “Until recently, many of the people who formed organizations shortly after the Roe versus Wade ruling were still running the movement.”
Hawkins – president of Students for Life America, based in Manassas, Va. – organized a gathering that has brought 2,500 college students to the District of Columbia this week for a conference and the March for Life rally. Rose – founder and president of Live Action, based in Arlington, Va. – has become another kind of irritant to abortion providers by sneaking into clinics with hidden cameras to investigate their practices – a tactic Planned Parenthood, the target of Rose’s videos, has called unethical.
Neither Hawkins nor Rose were born when the decision in Roe v. Wade was handed down on Jan. 22, 1973. Yet in the past five years, they have found their place as leaders of the new generation of pro-life activists.
Soon after her ninth birthday, Rose found a small book on the bottom row of a shelf in her parents’ home in San Jose. It was an antiabortion tract.
She was aghast.
“My parents were against abortion, but they weren’t activists,” Rose said.
She was one of eight siblings, all of whom had been home-schooled. Along with studying Latin with her siblings, she was taught that a “baby was a gift” and “how good life was.”
“I dedicated my life as a young girl to the ending of abortion,” she said.
At age 15, Rose formed Live Action and with a friend began doing PowerPoint presentations for local church groups. After enrolling in UCLA, she began a chapter on campus and wrote an article opposing abortion for the Daily Bruin. Her views were not well received, she recalled.
She met James O’Keefe during her freshman year in 2006. O’Keefe was with The Leadership Institute, a group based in Arlington that trains conservative activists. O’Keefe went on to surreptitiously record videos at ACORN, which led to the defunding of the liberal political organizing group, and he was arrested after trying to wiretap a U.S. senator’s office. He has been harshly criticized for his methods and the selective editing of his work.
“I’m proud to have worked with her,” said O’Keefe, who defends his tactics.
Working with him, Rose started a conservative magazine but needed a story to get attention. She stuck a camcorder in her purse and hatched a plan with O’Keefe to go undercover at the campus health-care center.
“I’m Lila, I think I might be pregnant,” she said to a nurse, even though she knew that was not true.
Rose, whose organization also opposes birth control, ultimately wrote and distributed an article alleging that young women were not being provided resources to support children on campus and were being pushed to abort pregnancies.
It was also the beginning of her undercover work, most of it directed at Planned Parenthood. She went to clinics in Los Angeles and Santa Monica posing as an underage girl impregnated by an older man. At one center, a low-level clinic employee told Rose to “figure out a birth date that works” to avoid having to report the case to police, according to news reports. Rose put the video on YouTube and quickly generated a couple of thousand page views.
“I was sitting in my dorm room hitting refresh,” she recalled.
The local Planned Parenthood office condemned the employee’s action but also threatened a lawsuit that would force Rose to remove the video because she had violated the state’s laws against secret recordings. She complied and reveled in the subsequent publicity, including her first interview on Fox’s “O’Reilly Factor.”
About that time, she was invited to give a talk at the Family Research Council, she said. In 2008, she raised about $45,000 from FRC donors to take her undercover stings to several states. She bleached her hair, wore glasses, put on Hannah Montana shoes, and pretended to be 15 and involved in a relationship with an older man.
On video, she caught a clinic staffer saying, “I don’t want to know the age.” The staff member was later fired, according to news reports.
In another campaign – this time trying to prove that Planned Parenthood failed to report sex trafficking – she sent a man posing as a pimp into clinics in Virginia to get services for underage girls. In the undercover videos, clinic staff appear to comply with his requests.
Rose posted both the edited and the full videos online and accused the clinics of countenancing sex trafficking.
In a statement, Planned Parenthood’s Virginia leadership said its officials contacted the FBI following the visits, describing Live Action as using its scheme to “coax our staff into making damaging comments.” The organization has also said Rose’s group manipulates videos and makes false claims.
“What they do is unethical,” said Carol Joffe, a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and author of “Dispatches From the Abortion Wars.” “Now you have to worry whether some woman who comes to you – who you genuinely want to help – can be trusted. Providers pride themselves on being responsive to people in crisis. Now this person has to worry do they have a hidden camera.”
The accusations that Rose’s videos are misleading haven’t stopped conservatives from embracing her work.
Tuesday, Rose was greeted like as star at the Christian Broadcasting Network’s District of Columbia studio.
She is looking to expand her scope and take her undercover activism international. In the past year, her staff has grown from two to 10. The office has the air of a private investigations agency, hidden behind a tailoring shop.
“I’m just getting started,” said Rose.
Kristan Hawkins calls herself an “abortion abolitionist.” It is purposely provocative, she admitted.
“Just like the slavery abolitionists, we’re talking about an issue most don’t want to discuss,” she said while walking through her Manassas office last week with her 6-week-old son, Maverick, strapped to her chest.
She argues that there is no difference between fighting against the holding of men and women in chattel slavery and fighting “to save the pre-born.”
She knows this is seen as an extremist view, but doesn’t back down.
“I think they’re extremist,” she said of supporters of abortion rights. “We have to believe it in our heads that abortion can be abolished.”
Older white men have for years been the face of the anti-abortion movement. As recently as the 2012 election cycle, former Missouri congressman Todd Akin provoked ire for his stance against abortion even in the case of rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said.
Hawkins shook her head at the memory. Not because she disagrees with Akin’s assessment that there should be no exception for abortion in cases of rape and incest, but because he got involved in a conversation about the meaning of rape.
“That set us back on campuses,” Hawkins said.
Her group was founded to encourage college students to oppose abortion and is central to developing the movement’s future. She’s more engaged in philosophical debates about the meaning of personhood than boneheaded assessments of rape. “Is a 2-year-old less of a person than a 4-year-old?” she asked.
Hawkins grew up in Wellsburg, a small town in the northern neck of West Virginia. She met her husband, who is a high school teacher, there and describes an upbringing in which her entire “social life was in church.”
She was drawn into the pro-life movement after volunteering one summer at Aim Pregnancy Help Center in Steubenville, Ohio, where she counseled women not to have abortions. It was an awkward assignment for a 15-year-old who knew little about sex, but Hawkins took to the work.
Groups that support abortion rights have opposed such centers, saying they intimidate women and provide misinformation to those seeking abortions. “Crisis Pregnancy Centers use deceptive tactics and withhold information to keep people from accessing the reproductive health-care services they need,” said Mari Schimmer, program director for Choice USA. “Medical care and advice should be provided by trained health-care professionals, not religiously motivated activists.”
Hawkins continued her antiabortion work at Bethany College, a small liberal arts school where she majored in political science.
In 2004, Hawkins interned with President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. She later worked for the Republican National Committee and for Bush’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
When she was hired to take over Students for Life of America in 2006, the organization had waned to 180 antiabortion groups on college campuses and 400 people at its annual conference. Hawkins bulked up fundraising through direct-mail appeals and began traveling to build up campus groups. She now counts 780 active campus groups.
It is still a numbers game for Hawkins.
She has had 10,000 signs printed with the slogan “Pro-Life Generation” and will be on the Mall at 8 a.m. Thursday to claim a spot near the front of the march, which begins in the afternoon. One team from her group is assigned to block the activists who come out in support of Roe v. Wade.
“She’s crazy. She’s crazy in a good way,” said Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, who introduced Hawkins at her conference this week.
Hawkins was on the steps of the Supreme Court opposing the Obama administration’s requirement that employers include birth control coverage in their health-care plans, Mahoney recalled. Supporters of the law were shouting. Hawkins picked up her bullhorn and got in the middle of them.