LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With a video camera hidden in her backpack, college student Lila Rose has become a rising star in the U.S. anti-abortion movement for her clandestine tactics in taking on Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of surgical abortions.
Rose stages her own sting operations at Planned Parenthood clinics, posing as a pregnant teenage girl to shine a light on what she says is the taxpayer-subsidized organization's cover-up of sexual abuse.
She claims Planned Parenthood counselors routinely ignore their duty to report statutory rape when dealing with young girls impregnated by older men and often tell them to lie about their age or the identity of their sex partners rather than alert authorities.
Rose, a 20-year-old history major at University of California, Los Angeles, posts the secretly obtained tapes on the website of her nonprofit group, LiveAction.org, prompting authorities in three states to launch investigations of Planned Parenthood.
"Planned Parenthood is looking at these young girls as a plumbing problem: 'We'll get you that abortion and send you on your way,'" Rose told Reuters in an interview. "And that's disrespecting two human lives. It's destroying her pre-born child and sending her back to an abuser."
A spokesman for Planned Parenthood declined to discuss the specific cases involving Rose but said the organization has strict policies and procedures regarding mandatory reporting and takes seriously laws protecting minors.
"In rare instances where health center employees violate those policies, immediate corrective action is taken," he said.
Thirty-six years after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the landmark Roe v. Wade case that termination of pregnancy was legal, abortion is still a bitterly debated social and political issue in the United States.
A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month showed 51 percent of Americans identified themselves as "pro-life."
Because minors cannot legally consent to sex with an adult, health providers are required to alert authorities when an underage girl has been impregnated by an older man.
A grand jury in Marion County, Indiana, is investigating Planned Parenthood based on Rose's videotapes and authorities in Tennessee and Arizona say they are reviewing the matter.
Officials in Tennessee and Orange County, California, have considered suspending public funds to the organization.
Rose's activities have won her support from conservatives, anti-abortion activists and some child abuse experts and umbrage from abortion rights supporters -- at least one urging donations to Planned Parenthood in her name.
Planned Parenthood clinics have posted Rose's picture to alert workers and U.S. News and World Report blogger Bonnie Erbe demanded to know why she had not been arrested for trespassing or fraud.
Rose, who was raised in a large family in California and started LiveAction.Org at the age of 15, decided to conduct her own investigation after seeing Planned Parenthood sued by girls who said the clinics covered up their sexual abuse and reading a study that found that the practice was common.
Walking into two Los Angeles area Planned Parenthood clinics with a hidden video camera in March 2007, Rose, then 18, told the staff she was 15 and had been impregnated by her 23-year-old boyfriend.
She says the workers at the first center encouraged her to lie about her age so that they would not have to report statutory rape. At the second center, she says, counselors aggressively pushed her to have an abortion.
Since then, Rose has conducted stings at six other clinics, pretending to be a 13- or 14-year-old girl carrying the baby of a much older man. She says staff members at all six clinics told her they did not care about her age or would not report it and in three instances instructed her to lie.
"The laws are set up so that the children don't have to ask for help. It's the job of mandated reporters to be looking at this girl and figuring out her well being. Is she OK? Who is her sexual partner?" Rose said.
"And it's set up that way because these girls are dealing with shame, fear, manipulation. They can't say, 'Hey, he's 21, make the report please.'"
Editing by John O'Calllaghan