Standing in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., two determined, energetic young women led thousands of people in a lobbying campaign to end abortion.
Those women are Lila Rose and Kristan Hawkins, the seemingly unlikely faces at the forefront of this country’s most controversial and enduring culture war.
“It’s historic what’s happening in our movement,” Rose said.
Rose, 26, is an undercover activist and the president of the anti-abortion rights group, LiveAction.org. She said supporters of the movement are increasingly young, which is due in part to the new ways the movement is spreading their message.
“We see this as a grassroots movement and it’s largely powered by young people who love using social media,” she said. “You know, maybe Facebook, we’re moving more towards Instagram these days. The younger generations are using different technologies.”
LiveAction.org now has close to 700,000 followers on Facebook and Rose has become an anti-abortion celebrity. One teenager in the crowd at the March For Life rally in January said she follows Rose on Twitter, Facebook, “everything” she said. “She always looks so beautiful and she’s just such a fun person.”
Hawkins, 29, is a grassroots organizer and the president of the Students For Life organization who has recruited thousands to the cause. She has become a hero to some in the young anti-abortion movement supporters like 16-year-old Devin Veers from North Dakota who put her child up for adoption last year and attended her first March For Life rally this year.
After choosing to carry her child to term instead of getting an abortion, Veers said, “I’m much stronger, and I’m more than happy to announce it. I’m not ashamed I’ve gotten pregnant at my age anymore.”
America’s war over abortion rights has been raging for over 40 years since the Supreme Court ruled abortion was legal in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case. But in the last few years, the anti-abortion rights movement has been gaining ground, and now there are over 200 limitations on abortion access have been passed into law in dozens of states, including waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, restricting hospital-admitting privileges for doctors who conduct abortions and zoning restrictions for abortion clinics.
The anti-abortion movement claims they are now on the winning side.
“We’re not out there to reduce abortion, we’re out there to end abortion. We want this to be over,” said Kristan Hawkins
This story is part of a new a YouTube channel called timesXtwo, a joint venture between "Nightline" and BBC Digital Current Affairs.
Rose has been waging a media war against Planned Parenthood, the biggest reproductive health care provider in the country.
“Planned Parenthood, what many people don’t realize, is the biggest abortion chain in our country,” she said.
Rose was a freshman at UCLA when she had the idea to start going undercover at abortion clinics and filming her experiences. She claims that Live Action’s videos show Planned Parenthood staffers engaged in a wide array of scandalous conduct, from staffers covering up statutory rape to promoting BDSM to underage girls.
“This is the greatest human rights abuse of our day,” Rose said. “And we're offering fresh evidence to that point.”
Live Action's claims sound explosive, and at least on one occasion, the organization’s videos led to Planned Parenthood firing one staffer for inappropriate behavior. But liberal watchdog groups like Media Matters have accused Live Action of deceptive editing, including altering the order of audio bites or omitting critical portions of conversations.
In one video edited by Live Action, a pregnant actress goes to Planned Parenthood and said she wants an abortion but only if the baby is a girl.
The Planned Parenthood staffer is heard on the video saying, “if you decide that, even if you find out that it’s a girl, and you decide that, what you would prefer is to terminate the pregnancy then that’s just your decision.”
In Live Action’s video, it appears that’s the last thing the staffer tells the actress. But in the raw footage of the meeting released by Live Action, the staffer continues, saying “You know because we’re required to discuss all of a patient’s options, is adoption something that you were interested in considering?”
Rose said she answers her critics who say she alters what was actually recorded by posting Live Action’s full undercover footage online, and the videos have made Rose a conservative media darling.
“Let the facts speak for themselves,” she said. “View the tapes yourself.”
But advocates for the abortion rights movement say that even though the anti-abortion rights movement may look different today, not much has changed.
“I think Lila Rose and the new leaders of the anti-choice movement look great, they’re charismatic, their message or their core beliefs are old and outdated and still out of touch with mainstream America,” said Ilyse Hogue, an abortion rights activist and president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
“There’s no question that the anti-choice movement has abandoned their old messaging of gory photos and sort of making sure people hear the Bible scriptures because they were losing when they did that,” Hogue continued. “What they haven’t shifted is their core positions, and their position that there is only one way for women to proceed in life if they get pregnant.”
In a statement to "Nightline," Planned Parenthood said LiveAction.org is "an organization that has been widely discredited for years because they deceptively edit videotapes and make claims that are flat-out false." They added that Planned Parenthood is "proud to provide high-quality health care services to nearly three million people a year, and we are proud to stand strong against unethical, illegal, and misleading attacks from political groups whose goal is to ban abortion completely."
While Rose courts the spotlight, Kristan Hawkins travels the country to help college campus student groups promote the anti-abortion message. She also goes to Planned Parenthood clinics and does what she calls “sidewalk counseling,” where she tries to intercept women before they walk into the clinic to talk to them about their options.
Sam Serrano is one of Hawkins’s acolytes and the founder of the Students For Life group at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She spends her Friday mornings standing on a ladder next to the wall of a Planned Parenthood clinic, talking to women who are escorted in and hoping to make what she calls a “baby save.”
“Hello good morning! Can I please offer you a gift,” Serrano yelled to one woman being escorted into the clinic, as she hung a gift bag with a small infant doll and pamphlets over the wall. “You don’t have to go through with this, we’re here, right across the street we can offer you free resources and help.”
Serrano believes this “loving approach” is key to talking to women out of getting abortions. She said people get angry at the anti-abortion movement because of the shame stigma attached to the group.
“They were saying, ‘Don’t get an abortion,’ you know, ‘you’re killing babies,’ they didn’t have a loving approach,” she said. “And so women would get scared of that ... and so it’s really difficult on our end now to kind of counteract what was done in the past.
“We are not your grandpa’s pro-life movement,” she added.
With a presidential elections on the horizon, both sides of the abortion rights war agree that this battle is only going to intensify in the year to come.
“People are actually very concerned about the anti-choice laws sweeping though the country,” Hogue said. “I think it’s going to be a very, very big deal… abortion rights, the debate about contraception -- they’re very, very old questions that most people think should have been settled. The anti-choice movement is proving they’re not settled, and that’s going to put it front and center."