Planned Parenthood Responds to “Sting” Videos

The following article originally appeared on and is being republished with permission from U.S. News & World Report‘s “On Women” blog.

For nearly two years, Lila Rose has been a thorn in Planned Parenthood’s side. The UCLA student has taken a hidden video camera to various clinics across the country and posed as a minor who is several weeks pregnant by a much older boyfriend. Her aim is to see if clinicians follow state laws regarding the reporting of statutory rape and getting parental consent for abortions. In nine cases, her videos suggest they weren’t.

In fact, two weeks ago Alabama put a Birmingham Planned Parenthood clinic on probation after an inspection triggered by one of Rose’s videos. State health inspectors found that the clinic failed to get the signature of minors on its forms verifying parental consent for abortions. Vanessa Cullins, Planned Parenthood‘s vice president for medical affairs, told me the national office is “concerned” and that this affiliate will soon be merged with a Georgia affiliate that “has more resources.”

In one of the videos, taped in July 2008 at a clinic in Memphis, Rose poses as a pregnant 14-year-old who wants to have an abortion immediately. She’s told that as a minor she has to bring a parent along but then convinces the receptionist to allow her to talk to a counselor. During the ninth minute in this unedited video, Rose says that she’s 14 and her boyfriend (who’s not with her) is 31 and then asks if he’s going to get in trouble. “No,” the counselor says. “You promise?” Rose asks. The worker then says the boyfriend could if she tells her manager but adds, “I’m not going to tell anybody. Please don’t say that I told you this. … Just say that you have a boyfriend 17 years old.” Tennessee state law defines statutory rape as someone at least four years older than the victim having sex with someone older than 13 and younger than 18. The state requires a reporting of such cases to authorities.

The counselor did tell Rose that she’d need to see a judge if she wanted to have an abortion without her parent’s consent. The counselor said that she should tell the judge that her boyfriend was also a minor to protect him from a statutory rape charge.

A similar scenario had occurred when Rose took her hidden video camera to an Indianapolis clinic a month earlier.

A Planned Parenthood spokesperson who didn’t want to speak for attribution says that the counselor on the Memphis tape was no longer an employee by the time the tape was released. Nonetheless, the clinic immediately retrained all its staff, the spokesperson says. According to a December 2008 statement from Planned Parenthood of Indiana, the Indianapolis clinic dismissed two employees who were featured in Rose’s video, and the president of the state organization said that “we’ve already made changes to tighten procedures and reinforce our reporting policies with all health center staff across the state.”

Though Rose refers to herself as a student journalist, she clearly has an agenda. In an interview Tuesday, Rose, 20, told me she’s “unabashedly a pro-life advocate” and that abortion is a “human rights abuse.” She says that she’d like to see all taxpayer dollars taken away from Planned Parenthood and that her videos show that the organization “doesn’t take the law seriously and doesn’t take adult-child sexual relationships seriously.” She declined to reveal to me the source of funding for her group, Live Action, which makes and posts the videos on its website, except to say that it’s not funded by “active” antiabortion groups like National Right to Life and that in 2009 it spent $124,000, which was provided by individuals and a few foundations sympathetic to the cause.

Earlier this week, Live Action released another video along the same lines as the others, generating another round of media coverage. The video, made at a Milwaukee clinic, was nearly two years ago. Coincidence or not, it was released during the week when President Obama is meeting with congressional leaders to discuss a health reform bill. In the White House’s list of proposed changes to the Senate-passed health reform bill, the funding of community health centers like Planned Parenthood rises from the $7 billion to $11 billion.

[Read Abortion Coverage Severely Restricted in House Health Reform Bill.]

Taxpayer dollars aren’t legally allowed to be used to fund abortions. When I point this out to Rose, she says that Planned Parenthood “is concerned with upping their abortion numbers” and that “they’ve increased their share in the abortion market steadily.” She adds, “At the end of the day, even if federal funds can’t be earmarked for abortions, those used to support Planned Parenthood support abortions.”

Cullins calls Rose’s claims “totally absurd and totally unfounded,” stressing that 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does has nothing to do with abortions. “Our foremost focus is on prevention of unplanned pregnancies through the use of safe and accepted contraceptive methods,” she says. While she admits that Planned Parenthood is providing a larger share of abortion services in this country than in the past, she says that’s because “we’ve had a paucity of new providers who have come into the system to start their own clinics.”

I want to know what, if any, action Planned Parenthood has taken on a national level in response to these videos. Cullins first tells me that much of the footage is highly edited—like this latest video from Milwaukee—and can’t be taken at face value. She says she hasn’t seen raw footage of the videos. Still, Cullins adds, that “we take seriously any allegations that come our way and take corrective action in the form of training and retraining in order to ensure that care is in accordance with the law.” The organization already had a system in place, before the first video came out, for doing routine spot checks of its facilities with investigators posing as teens. “Of all the calls we’ve done,” Cullins says, “we’ve had a couple of instances we’ve seen where employees didn’t respond the way they should with regards to teens and reporting abuse.”

As a result of these spot checks, Cullins adds, Planned Parenthood decided to institute a program of retraining. There’s now a policy in place, she says, to transfer patients to a trained “skills interviewer” whenever a patient hints at abuse—be it statutory rape, domestic violence, or pregnancy coercion. In the case of statutory rape, “first and foremost, clinicians must explain that there is reporting that must be done to proper authorities,” says Cullins. “They must send the primary message that this is an unhealthy relationship, and parents need to be brought into the teen’s confidence, though we can’t legally inform parents” that a teen is pregnant and seeking an abortion because of medical privacy laws. While some states don’t have laws requiring parents to be notified before a minor obtains an abortion, most have some law requiring at least one parent to be notified. (Parental consent can sometimes be bypassed by obtaining court approval.)

Cullins conceded that the videos have put a spotlight on some weaknesses in the system and that Planned Parenthood has made some changes as a result. The national office has sent out new training materials to affiliates, she says, and has conducted teleconferences with affiliate leaders and workshops at professional meetings. She adds: “The one thing I really want to reinforce is that we’ve already had system in place to assure the quality of care so that when we pick up deviations, we can readily address them.”

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  • cat

    Isn’t forcing an abuse victim to report or not have access to reproductive services pretty damned cruel?  If this had been a real case, how would forcing the girl to report or continue and unwanted pregnancy be good for her?  In the real world, there are plenty of rape and abuse victims who, for a variety of reasons, do not want to report it and setting up a situation where they are coerced into doing so is harmful.  I know a girl who was raped by her brother at 12 and became pregnant.  Though she did eventually report it, she lost her home, education, and reputation because of it.  Making her report the rape in order to have an abortion would likely have just resulted in an unsafe attempt to do it herself.  Though of course we have to follow the laws and the risks, for PP of not doing so are incredibly high, what the councilor did here, in my opinion, is the ethical thing to do.  Abuse victims take a big personal risk by reporting and making them choose between that and carrying their abuser’s baby is awful.

  • beenthere72

    just wanted to give you a heads up that the URL used for the ‘unedited video’ link seems to be incorrect.   i think it should be:




  • empathann

    I agree completely.  The laws in most states are often not on the side of the victim, or the victim’s family.  Our family went through a similar (though not quite as terrible situation) with 2 of our children.  We made the difficult choice to report the abuse so both children could receive therapy.  What resulted was 5 years of hell that still continues to interrupt our family’s life in various ways.  Our child who committed the offense has a mental illness, and due to a lack of continuity of care by our county’s mental health center, his psych services were interrupted for 6 months, during which time he offended.  The county wrote a letter accepting responsibility for this ball-dropping to the court (ironically the same county court that charged him).  We voluntarily removed him from our home, we put him in treatment ourselves (which was enormously time consuming and expensive).  He was 12 and was charged with a level 3 felony & put on the predator registry (where he still is, 5 years later). During his time in treatment, we were visited by CPS and our other children were taken from us in part because a social worker who did no research about our case thought that we “allowed abuse to happen in our home.” As if we could have somehow consented to such awful behavior, even though we took action the day we found out about. Eventually, we came out of that ok, everyone is back home. But, our child who was the victim was victimized a second time by a broken system.  Our other children were also dragged into quagmire that hurt them deeply.  Our child who was the offender eventually completed a 3 1/2 year course of therapy & has been reintegrated back home.  It was a long, sad, process that we learned much from.  Although he served his sentence, had other mitigating factors contributing to his behavior that was recognized by the court, completed therapy to the satisfaction of the court (and us, probably the toughest critics he could face), he is still listed on the registry until he is 18.  He carries an ID that brands him as a registered offender.  He cannot work.  And probably most ironically, the registry lists our address on the internet, which is also the home of his victim.  We have sheriff officers know on our door routinely to make sure he still lives here.  It’s just like the scarlet letter.  As parents, we were consistently made to feel at fault by the courts.  On our tougher days, we often think about how life would have been different if we had just sent our son to live at grandma’s & never reported.  We know that we did the right thing, but we suffered through absolutely unreasonable consequences.  Until laws are written through the lens of how the consequences will affect the victim, there won’t really be justice for them. I think that the victim should have a good deal of control about what happens.  It’s not right to drag a suffering person through the mud over & over again. The laws require reporting as soon as a victim asks for help.  Once a report is filed, there is no control.  What is the incentive for the victim? It’s like having salt thrown in a wound, right before it’s bandaged.      


  • cpcwatcher

    Ask any doctor/nurse/counselor who works with underserved and youth populations, whether at abortion clinics or elsewhere, how often they let the types of things “Lila Rose” reports slide. It’s common, and you know what? It’s because if they didn’t just let some of the obviously non-abusive (yet still illegal) cases slide, they’d get no actual work done because they’d spend half the day just reporting these kinds of things to the police. It’s not that PP counselors and staff don’t care that teenage women are dating much older men (many of the videos clearly show them telling the young woman that she shouldn’t date adult men), it’s that if they seriously took every single incident of this kind of thing and did what overly-restrictive abortion laws require them to do, they would cease to be a place where young women feel they can get actual, non-judgemental help. It’s sad, but realistic.


    I know for a fact that crisis pregnancy centers underreport cases of teen women being impregnated by older men, but since they only PRETEND to be medical facilities, they’re not bound by the same laws as real clinics.

  • passerina

    Readers should remember that laws vary quite a bit by state regarding what is considered statutory rape and what professionals are required to report. In my state the age of consent is 13 and there is NOT mandatory reporting for statutory rape, only for child abuse. Even if the boyfriend is 31, as a counselor I am required to report only if he is a member of her household. Otherwise, it’s not considered child abuse. As someone who has counseled many teens seeking abortions, I found that in several cases the girl’s mother knew of the relationship and had no objection. For the PP staff (or anyone providing options counseling and referrals), these situations are not always cut and dried.

  • cpcwatcher

    Precicely.  But that’s not what the viewers of Live Action films, or the legislaters who respond to them, are asked to take into consideration.  They get all “Will someone PLEASE think of the children?!?!” and want to deny the fact that 14 year old girls have sexualities, and somewhere in their lives they deturmined that it’s okay to enter into a sexual relationship with an adult.  Well, that’s dicey, but hardly the clinic’s fault.  They’re not enabling her to do such a thing, they’re just dealing with her situation and providing the best support they can provide so she has a choice.


    You’ll notice Lila Rose has never posed as a woman trying to report a teacher or her uncle for rape or sexual assault.  In those cases, any clinic would help her and report the man.  They exist to do just that: help women who need assistance in their reproductive lives. 

  • makosharkesq

    In states where the law requires a clinician to report cases of sexual abuse, these stings actually flood the system with wrongful reports of rape that encumber timely police response.  For that reason [conservation of police resources], in some jurisdictions, it is a misdemeanor to file a fraudulent report.


    The only catch to this idea is prosecutorial discretion.  Even where a crime has clearly been committed, prosecutors are not required to prosecute.  PP affiliates could conceivably pressure prosecutors to move forward with a case.  Flooding the system with wrongful reports of rape is a serious problem that the media could get behind — particularly given the frequency of these stings.  


    And it only takes one or two prosecutions to send a message.  So we need only convince a couple of prosecutors.


    Once the specter of criminal culpability becomes daunting enough, these stings will hopefully be abandoned.

  • makosharkesq

    I know for a fact that crisis pregnancy centers underreport cases of teen women being impregnated by older men, but since they only PRETEND to be medical facilities, they’re not bound by the same laws as real clinics.

    I hope you’ll pursue this angle further.  Many states [including Alabama where one the stings was orchestrated] have expanded this obligation beyond health professionals to include school teachers, counselors, therapists, etc.  The complete set of people subject to this reporting law is listed in the relevant section of the code.


    If you are aware of CPCs doing this, I think it would be a good idea to reciprocate with stings of our own.

  • amanda-marcotte

    What Lila Rose wants clinics to do.  It seems to be that they want them to turn out anyone under 18 who comes to them for any service at.  Or slap cuffs on them and call the cops?  Even if you do follow the law, I doubt you’re required to cease all care the second you find out someone is a minor and turn them out like you do someone caught drinking underage at a club.

  • liberaldem

    I suspect that what Lila Rose wants is for Planned Parenthood to lose all federal and state funds.  She seems to come out of the same “journalism” school as James O’Keefe.

  • colleen

    I’m not sure what Lila Rose wants clinics to do.

    Lila Rose (and most of the rest of the right wing morons who post here) wants Planned Parenthood to be socially discredited, defunded and closed. Indeed the institution of Planned Parenthood is a primary target of the religious right and tools like Grover Norquist. If Lila Rose cared about old men having sex with underaged children and exposing the institutions that enable such activities she would be focused on the local Dioceses rather than women’s clinics.
    The other thing that Lila Rose wants is a lucrative career as a right wing ideologue. What I want to know is why these women are’t all pregnant with ‘snow flake’ babies. Just think, they could rescue the tiny zygotes from their frozen limbo, gestate them and give them away to worthy childless couples. They wouldn’t even have to have sex.

  • colleen

    She seems to come out of the same “journalism” school as James O’Keefe.

    Astute observation. She is one of O’Keefe’s proteges.

  • wendy-banks

    I’d like to catch this stupid little twat and violate HER human rights– I can’t stand people that lie, lie, lie just to prove they are “good little christians” Besides, I thought that broke one of their stupid ‘comandments’ or something. And christians say atheists have no morals? Riiight… I see your morals perfectly well now Ms. Rose…

    You are suppose to do what’s right because it’s RIGHT, not because you are afraid of some god watching your every move.

  • deb-r

    there was a really creepy case in my area of an 11 yr old girl who was allowed to live with an adult step or  half brother ( I forget which) after parents died. She was repeatadly raped by brother and had several children by him. A couple of them were given up for adoption–NO ONE questioned her about who the father was in these cases. It took years before this poor young woman was brave enough to get help. If Rose really cares about teens maybe she should focus on who the father is in adoption cases!

  • cat

    Again though, it’s complicated.  Abuse victims rights advocates often don’t want mandatory father reporting, because this makes a woman who is pregnant via rape choose between keeping the kid or potentially having her rapist gain parental rights (which can and does happen). 

  • crowepps

    The thing I find bizarre is that she ADMITS that she goes in and tells them all kinds of outrageous lies, and then she says ‘and here’s the proof on a tape that I SWEAR tells the honest truth’ and people actually BELIEVE her.


    Hey, if her ideology is so important she’s willing to lie to Planned Parenthood in the service of her goal of becoming ProLife Drama Queen, why wouldn’t she lie about the tape?

  • prochoicegoth

    I’m wondering why the fact that she is LYING isn’t being brought to attention. This woman is IMPERSONATING underaged rape victims FFS! The ends justify the means to the pro-lifers I guess…..Then again, their whole position is based on lying about fetal development, abortion procedures and other factors.

  • crowepps

    The idea that the Planned Parenthood employees don’t see through her act is kind of lame as well. Your average 21 year old isn’t going to be believeable as a 14 year old and her story is going to have lots of holes in it. The fact that she’s not thrown out on her ear saying a lot for the patience and caring of the PP staff trying to deal with her.


    And I am TIRED of the outrage over how PP facilitates CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE because they didn’t pass her fictions on to the cops. She admits she was making it all up. She never had sex with an adult man. She wasn’t pregnant. There wasn’t any actual child sexual abuse to report to anybody.