My Problem With Lila Rose

One of my Facebook friends keeps up with the latest doings at Live Action Films and its “Mona Lisa Project” (MLP). It seems Lila Rose is at it again, with yet another devastating expose of Planned Parenthood.

I won’t win many friends among dedicated pro-lifers by stating that I’m not sure about the morality of what Lila Rose does, but I’m going to say it anyway. I hope by now at least the regular readers of American Catholic know that I am unreservedly and ardently pro-life. And it is because I believe so strongly in our right speak the truth – as I articulated at the time of George Tiller’s demise – by using powerful images and words to convey the realities of abortion that I find myself quite disenchanted with the MLP.

My first problem is that lying is a sin. On the scale of things, what Planned Parenthood does to innocent unborn children is worse – far worse – than what Lila Rose does to Planned Parenthood. But that does not make what Lila Rose does morally acceptable. And it is all the more relevant for us since Lila Rose has recently joined the Catholic Church!

The Catechism says with regards to lying:

“A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. “Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.” (2482-2483)

More importantly for the purposes of this particular scenario, it also says:

“A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.”(1753)

Now, I anticipate various objections to the effect that what Lila Rose is doing is actually exposing the truth. And there can be no doubt that she is. But is it possible to deny that her systematic deception of Planned Parenthood employees is not lying, is not intrinsically disordered?

This raises a lot of unanswered questions about undercover work in general, which at first glance would appear to be intrinsically immoral, but on second glance, appears to be routine activity for police and investigative journalists.

What bothers me is that most of the articles I come across in praise of MLP and Lila Rose, as well as message board discussions, do not address the issue at all. Even Archbishop Charles Chaput fails to mention it when writing of this project, taking the morality of this sort of undercover work entirely for granted.

It just isn’t that easy for me, when I see what the Catechism says. Far be it for me to presume to know more about Catholic morality than the Archbishop, but I’ve yet to see anyone address the issue in a way that would set my mind at ease. If undercover work is moral, then some of what the MLP does is acceptable. Some, but not all.

For instance, I do not believe that the nervous responses of low-level flunkies, or even high level representatives on the telephone can honestly be used to indicate a national conspiracy of racism and endorsement of statutory rape. Attempts to link such responses to the racist philosophy of Margaret Sanger, as if everyone who works at a Planned Parenthood is a willing and conscious participant in a racist conspiracy, only count as more deception in my eyes (I think they just wanted the promised donation).

These are usually clear cases of entrapment, which goes beyond undercover work (which I am still not clear on) and crosses over into something I find highly immoral when the police do it, and even worse when someone claiming to be a Catholic Christian does it.

In the end I believe the truth of abortion is more powerful than the efforts of Planned Parenthood and other institutions involved in providing and propagandizing for abortion to suppress that truth. Let us support courageous men like the Reverend Walter Hoye, who have gone to jail for telling the truth to women, informing them that there are alternatives to abortion and people who care enough about them to help them make use of them. Or the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which tours college campuses with large displays of aborted fetuses and engages in lively debate with the students who come by.

As for undercover exposes involving the use of direct and deliberate deception, it may well be that, somehow, they are licit. If so, I would encourage their use. But I would discourage conspiracy theorizing and just stick to the facts. And I would absolutely reject even a whiff of entrapment.

Update: For Deal Hudson’s take on this post, and my answer to him below, go here.

38 Responses to My Problem With Lila Rose

  1. Micha Elyi says:

    Perhaps your understanding of the catechism is simplistic, much too simplistic.

    Consider this, is Miss Lila Rose leading Planned Parenthood into or out of error?

  2. Melissa says:

    You bring up a very interesting point, and I applaud you for trying to look at the picture in it’s entirety. It is easy for many people from all walks to justify any action to reach their goals, and Catholics are no exception.
    Micha Elyi: the Catechism is very, very simple. It is our will to make our own rules that complicates things. We are to love, in all contexts, in all situations. All human life is sacred and worthy of full dignity. Especially as Catholics, we should be mindful of the slippery slope we embrace when we sacrifice any ground for “greater good”; I believe that small instances like encouraging Miss Rose where (and if) she is in error leads to an acceptance of the murder of Dr. Tiller, and the acceptance of bombing abortion clinics to save the lives of future unborn children.
    I do no ignore the fact that there are times something different must be done; that doing the same thing will not fix every situation. I only ask us all to be mindful of God’s Will, and his commandments to us.

  3. GodsGadfly says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head–and the same applies to torture–when you say that a lot of people just take it for granted, and don’t think of it as being morally questionable.
    I also wonder if there’s a question here of–regarless of whether lying in this case is immoral–whether there is not a *better* way to do things.
    So, undercover work like Lila Rose’s might be morally justifiable, but is it heroically virtuous?

    As a strong advocate of heroic virtue, I think you raise a valid point there.

    On the other hand, while not every employee of PP may necessarily have a racist view, the organization most certainly does, and it also tends towards a certain kind of person working there.

    But there are better ways of legally obtaining the evidence that they’re covering up statutory rape. My wife was proposing such a scenario recently, based upon rules for medicadi reporting and such, but I can’t recall exactly what it was.

    Though I have a problem with saying that every lie is always a grave evil, even if it is in the Catechism. Is it mortally sinful to tell your kids about Santa Claus? Is it mortally sinful to engage in acting or storytelling?
    What about a practical joke?

    I think the operative word in the definition you quote is “deceive”.

  4. Mike Petrik says:

    The Catechism does indeed take a strict stance on lying — stricter even than Scripture when read carefully. I admit to being confused by the Catechism’s seeming absolutism. Read literally, it would seem not only to disallow police undercover agents from infiltrating organized crime, but would even forbid a father from lying to a home invader in order to protect his family. What about a father who leads the intruder in the wrong direction in order to “deceive” him? I wonder whether such absolutist statements about lies or deception are actually consonant with the laws written on the hearts of men.

  5. Jay Anderson says:

    I have similar qualms to yours about these sorts of “sting” operations.

    In addition to the scenarios you raise, I can think of another instance when it might be appropriate to lie. If your home was a stop on the Underground Railroad while the Fugitive Slave Law was in effect or if you were secretly hiding Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, would you be morally justified in lying about whether you were harboring run-away slaves or escaping Jews if the authorites knocked on your door? Clearly, one’s intent would be to “deceive” the interlocutors as to the existence/presence of those they wish to enslave or murder.

  6. Joe Hargrave says:


    I wonder these things as well. But am I wrong in pointing out that we do not have clear instruction on the use of lying?

    Undercover deception as a means of exposing a criminal ring – like Planned Parenthood – doesn’t personally strike me as anything too bad.

    The use of entrapment to try and link today’s Planned Parenthood with the racist philosophy of the past strikes me as over-the-top. The use of entrapment for any reason, even against an evil person, strikes me as intrinsically wrong.

  7. Mike Petrik says:

    I don’t disagree, Joe. I have no developed view one way or the other on the MLP’s actions. My only point is that I am not convinced that those actions can be evaluated solely by reference to an absolute prohibition on lying.

  8. Joe,

    I would recommend you read my series on lies, but, for now, I will quote Augustine on it, which might help provide some more discussion:

    “It cannot be denied that they have attained a very high standard of goodness who never lie except to save a man from injury; but in the case of men who have reached this standard, it is not the deceit, but their good intention, that is justly praised, and sometimes even rewarded. It is quite enough that the deception should be pardoned, without its being made an object of laudation, especially among the heirs of the new covenant, to whom it is said: Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these comes of evil. And it is on account of this evil, which never ceases to creep in while we retain this mortal vesture, that the co-heirs of Christ themselves say, Forgive us our debts,” St. Augustine, Enchiridion, c22.

  9. Steve says:

    Given this analysis, would it have been sinful in Germany in 1942 to say you were not harboring a Jew when you were?

    I’m not playing “Gotcha!” here; it’s a question I’ve been grappling with.

    Regarding the link to Sanger and racism, I think Ms. Rose is in the clear. When PP employees repeatedly condone racism, it’s up to them to disprove the link. Is it a coincidence that PP exists primarily in poor, black and Hispanic neighborhoods? How about that PP’s allies constantly beat the drum of eugenics and seek to eradicate the poor (and black) by contracepting them out of existence.

    Whether PP continues to be institutionally racist is up for legitimate debate (though if it walks and quacks like a duck I’m inclined to believe it is a duck). However, Ms. Rose’s allegations are definitely not unsupported or deceiving.

  10. Joe Hargrave says:

    “However, Ms. Rose’s allegations are definitely not unsupported or deceiving.”

    I disagree. What you have here is entrapment – attempting to get someone to do an immoral thing that they otherwise probably would not do.

    I do not believe for an instant that the people on the phone in these taped recordings are part of a secret racist agenda. They sound genuinely baffled at first, and patronizing as time goes on. They are offered money for some very strange reasons, and they play along to get the money.

    If I were desperate for money and it turned out that lying and deception were alright after all, I might agree to take money offered to me on the grounds that a person believed I was as racist as he was, even if I weren’t.

    Now, to take that and say it is evidence that Planned Parenthood today still adheres to the racist philosophy of Margaret Sanger on an institutional level, which is what they do at the Live Action website, is stretching the truth to the point of dishonesty.

    I have absolutely no love of PP, but wrong is wrong. Undercover reporting and the use of deception to expose, and only to expose the criminal practices of PP may be alright (still waiting for an answer on that). But this entrapment nonsense goes too far.

  11. Now might be a good time to have a discussion on the difference between deception and entrapment, as it seems that Joe’s problem is not as much with the lying as it is with the inducing people to sin.

    It might also be a good time to think about whether or not those who pretend to be minors in chatrooms to catch child predators are doing wrong and if not why.

  12. Mike Petrik says:

    I suspect you are right regards entrapment, but like so many things murky facts can make for uncertain analysis. It seems relevant to me whether Ms. Rose’s deception is designed to deceive a target into revealing a truth or to trick them into doing something immoral that they otherwise would not do. I suspect the intent is the former, but as you note it may not be efficacious; instead, the target simply falsely agrees in order to secure the funds — in which case the effort objectively operates in the way you describe (i.e., the inducement of immorality) even though that may not be its intent. That said, the immorality in such case would be the target’s false statements, not the true statements. It is hard to know with confidence since we can only speculate as to the target’s actual beliefs, etc. On balance, I’m uncomfortable with the approach taken, but am not confident enough to form a considered opinion.

  13. Tito Edwards says:

    As per St. Augustine, this wouldn’t have pertained to this situation. It’s a straw man.

  14. Mark says:

    well…Joe certainly has a point when it comes to entrapment but then, those guys were accepting money for wacky reasons and considering the fact that PP clinics are found mostly in certain places where a lot of a certain group of people lives…anyway, as for whether lila rose tactics are evil, the whole under this heading discussion has shades of Zippy’s famed “Debate Club At Auchswitz” formula…

  15. Tito

    What is a straw man about the Augustine quote? Augustine, who (among many others) points out lying is an intrinsic evil, and in this way a sin (and whatever willful deception she did for this, that would be a sin). It doesn’t say, however, the level and quality of sin in her act (which also Augustine and others would point out); and indeed, if she is doing it ‘to save lives’ it is, for Augustine, a slight level of evil/sin involved (still something to recant, but pardonable). And, as Augustine says, we can praise the good we see as a result of the act without approving the sin — which is how he sees Rahab, for example.

  16. Tito Edwards says:


    Your response to my comment was what I was looking for.

    if she is doing it ‘to save lives’ it is, for Augustine, a slight level of evil/sin involved (still something to recant, but pardonable).

    I agree with your most recent comment.

  17. Joe

    My question to you now: while you are right (as I have said) in saying lying is intrinsically evil, the question of the quality of that evil is left unanswered. Moreover, your comments on the death of Tiller show something far more grave and serious a concern that you somewhat approved — in such a way, how do you resolve the contradiction in this post with your statements over Tiller’s death?

  18. Tito

    Ok — perhaps you might want to ask “what do you think it means” in the future, if you want clarification; it would do well instead of the “that’s a strawman” remark which indicates some sort of opposition, when clearly, I think we can agree here. It is this kind of thing which would help in communication in general and perhaps find more common ground — don’t assume it isn’t there, and act as if it isn’t.

  19. Joe Hargrave says:

    “how do you resolve the contradiction in this post with your statements over Tiller’s death?”

    I do not believe there is a contradiction.

    First, I thought I was clear enough to state that I did not approve of executing an unarmed man… eventually, anyway. I admit that at first I was a little less thoughtful than I should have been.

    Secondly, my main concern was with those who were (and are) attempting to use the incident, and others like it, as a pretext for silencing the pro-life movement.

    As I said in my post, I am disenchanted with the Lila Rose project precisely because I believe that the truth is our most effective weapon against abortion.

  20. Joe Hargrave says:

    As for this:

    “the whole under this heading discussion has shades of Zippy’s famed “Debate Club At Auchswitz” formula”

    If Auschwitz justifies everything and anything, then the Church needs to make that clear. It hasn’t. So we have a right, and probably a duty, to ask these questions and err on the side of what we know to be morally correct.

  21. Joe Hargrave says:

    Oh, and Henry…

    Can you link that series on lies you mentioned?

  22. LCB says:

    This would not be entrapment, because it present a situation that any planned parenthood center regularly encounters (regularly as in multiple times per year). Further, her investigation is not about a secret racist agenda, it is to reveal a pattern of deception on the part of planned parenthood.

    To this end, we should consider that in multiple places she has received identical results from seemingly unaffiliated individuals. In Indiana even the hand gestures were similar. Further, the reactions from these individuals is not what one would expect to be the natural human reaction.

    For these reasons, combined with statements from former planned parenthood employees that they underwent training on these precise issues, it is not unreasonable to really begin wondering:

    Is planned parenthood engaging in corporate level practices that involve an unwritten/unpublished policy directly related to circumventing laws, and from which they profit? That’s conspiracy.

    For a variety of reasons we may deem Lila’s activity as immoral (I do not, as she is not acting towards deception but acting towards the common good, and acting is not intrinsically evil), but let’s at least be clear about her aim and purpose.

  23. Donald R. McClarey says:

    If we can kill to save others, I do not see why we cannot lie to save others. Of course this whole post merely reflects the divisions within the Church that have existed for centuries on the question of using deceit to fight evil, especially when innocent human life is at stake. On this question I am not a rigorist. If my telling the truth is going to lead to the death of an innocent party I am not going to do it. Likewise if I am conducting an investigation into wrongdoing, especially of the gravity regarding underage abortions in regard to Planned Parenthood, I would not hesitate to use subterfuge. However, I can also understand Catholics in good conscience who completely disagree with me. This is not a simple area.

  24. Joe Hargrave says:


    I have been trying very carefully to make distinctions here.

    Lila Rose does two distinct things giving rise to two distinct moral dilemmas.

    “This would not be entrapment, because it present a situation that any planned parenthood center regularly encounters (regularly as in multiple times per year).”

    By “this” you mean getting them to participate in the cover-up of a statutory rape. Yes, in this case, I agree – it is not necessarily entrapment, though I still have questions about the use of deception in undercover work in general.

    But I sincerely doubt that Planned Parenthood is regularly offered donations that are to be ear-marked for the termination of black children. In fact, the reactions of the PP staff to these requests obviously indicate – and in one or two cases, directly state – that they have never heard these requests before.

    Trying to get Planned Parenthood to take money from a person who wants the money to be used specifically for racist purposes is entrapment. It is also dishonest in a way that I think is unarguably bad.

    For Donald,

    I don’t think innocent lives are being saved through this campaign, to be quite honest with you. A few Planned Parenthood workers will be fired, but telephone calls to perplexed staff members are not going to be enough to put an end to that organization. The use of violence in war has to be proportional, after all – lives really do have to be at stake.

    In this case, I doubt they are.

  25. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Joe, one has to start somewhere, and Lila Rose and her intrepid band have started the process. It is precisely this type of undercover work by private organizations that has often led to reform legislation.

  26. Joe

    That links to the final post, which on top of it, has links to the first ten parts of the series. I used Peter Lombard’s “The Sentences” to examine the issue of lies, taking on his sources and reflecting upon them and their content, as the case may be. I would suggest the following posts as a sample:

    Part III: The Initial Classification
    Part VI is why lies are always sinful.
    Part VII: To Err is Human, But is Jacob a Liar?

  27. jh says:

    Didn’t the Vatican and many Catholic Chruch officials “lie” when forging fake Baptism Certificates for Jews to present?

    Has that ever been exmained. It seems linked to the question of undercover work etc etc

  28. LCB says:


    Thanks for your reply. I’m just trying to assist in making distinctions at this point.

    On the issue of the donation, I’m not sure that is entrapment. Planned parenthood is, in my estimation, an implicitly racist organization. Its roots are in Eugenics, and its foundress spoke openly at KKK events.

    Further, entrapment (in the way I’ve always used it) only applies to legal situations. I’m not sure what is illegal about the donation issue, and as such I’m not sure how entrapment would apply.

  29. Joe Hargrave says:

    “Further, entrapment (in the way I’ve always used it) only applies to legal situations”

    It is the best word I have to describe what is being done. The technique is the same; only the consequence is different.

    And whenever it is done, for the purposes of catching a criminal or not, I believe it is an offense to human dignity. The word I use to describe it is dishonorable.

  30. LCB says:

    I think dishonorable might be a fair word concerning the phone donations, if for no other reason than a person answering the phones really doesn’t represent an organization (usually a volunteer, not well trained, etc).

    As for Lila’s undercover work, this is the 6th or 7th planned parenthood she has ‘caught’ and the people who are working to circumvent laws are paid, trained, experience staff. The latest Live Action Films release on the Alabama incident contains this tidbit, “…She then tells Rose that the clinic manager, OB/GYN Dr. Desiree Bates, “sometimes does bend the rules a little bit” and states that “whatever you tell us stays within these walls” and “we can’t disclose any information to anybody.””

    State by state, abortion mill by abortion mill, it’s difficult to refute that a clear pattern of behavior is emerging from Planned Parenthood.

    As a citizen she has some responsibility for the common good, and when lawful authorities have shown reckless and negligent disregard for public safety in their refusal to investigate Planned Parenthood (and their continuing funding of Planned Parenthood), I feel comfortable asserting that she is merely exercising her duty as a citizen to protect the common good.

    She has not attempted (to my knowledge) to somehow blackmail P.P with these videos, nor has she attempted to financially gain from them in other ways. Rather, she has released them to the media and to the public for the common good.

    I feel that if I faulted Lila for this, I would need to also fault undercover police, and other commonly used police interrogation methods.

  31. […] my friend Joe Hargrave has raised an interesting take on the morality of her actions, and his observations deserve some […]

  32. Gabriel Austin says:

    I believe Mr. Hargrove is suffering from a failing called “scrupulosity”. It is not a sin; but it is a failing.

  33. GodsGadfly says:

    Scrupulosity is the fear of having sin when one has none. It very often goes with the saint’s quest for spiritual perfection.
    Scrupulosity does not mean questioning whether something is the *best* action or not. Again, the difference between ordinary virtue and heroic virtue. Whether or not there’s anything *wrong* with what Lila Rose does, it certainly isn’t the most saintly approach to the matter.
    Oh, my wife reminded me what it is. In South Carolina, and probably other states, Medicaid will pay for abortions in the case of rape or incest, but they must be reported.
    So all one really has to do is call Planned Parenthood and say, “I’m on Medicaid [in our case, that would not be a falsehood at all]. Will Medicaid cover my abortion?” And see what they say.
    Or, an activist with the appropriate resources (e.g., a lawyer) could demand PP’s Medicaid billing records–not necessarily the explicit recrds; just whether or not they get any money from Medicaid to pay for abortions (don’t have to know which abortions; just whether that’s true_. If they get money from Medicaid, then they have to be reporting the rape or incest, and you get the records of how often they’ve reported it.

  34. Ryan says:

    How about CCC 2489:

    “Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.”

    Could it be argued that the PP abortionist do not have the right to the information? Would this be in line with the priests who forged baptism certificates for Jews during the Holocaust?

    Perhaps Just War theory might play into this as well.

    Anyway, I know we’re well past this conversation but I enjoyed reading through your thoughts and the conversation that followed.

  35. restrainedradical says:

    In response to Tim Shipe here:

    The way I see it, acting is not a sin, not because it reveals truths (that would be consequentialist), but because it isn’t intended to deceive the viewer. Same goes for storytelling.

  36. Tito Edwards says:


    Hey, how a bout an icon to go along with your name?

    Would make TAC look purtier.

  37. Joe Hargrave says:

    I want to make clear, once again, that I think Rose was doing two different things.

    There was legitimate undercover work – I was hazy on its legitimacy but now I’m willing to say its fine. This latest thing Don posted looks like that. It’s catching people in a criminal act. I’M OK WITH THAT. Just to be clear.

    But there was SOMETHING ELSE that Rose was doing that was not legitimate undercover work. Posing as racists and offering money to PP on the condition that it be used only for the abortion of minority children – that, in my view, was dishonorable.

    Why was it dishonorable? For a number of reasons which I outlined in the old discussion you can read above. It wasn’t exposing a crime, it was attempting to get people to look bad by making some very dubious assumptions and claims.

    Yes, its war, and we want to win. I want victory with honor. Undercover work is fine. Moral entrapment isn’t.

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