One movie can save 1,000 lives.
That’s what filmmaker Jason Jones has learned.
Jones, 42, was the keynote speaker at Guiding Star Duluth’s Together For Life Banquet Jan. 26 at Greysolon Ballroom, Duluth. The Diocese of Superior Respect Life office sponsored a table at the third annual pro-life event, which 320 people attended.
Jones, a Catholic convert raised atheist, has been on a mission to end abortion since he was a teenager in 1989. His girlfriend’s father forced her to abort their baby when she was six months pregnant.
“You had a little girl,” the abortionist told Katie, his girlfriend, after the death.
At the time, Jones was a high school dropout in basic training who’d joined the Army to support Katie and their baby. Raised poor in the South Side of Chicago, with four siblings and no father, he was ranked last in his high school class. He left for the Army before he started shaving.
“I went to basic training with a pregnant girlfriend, a Scooby Doo pillowcase and a razor I couldn’t use,” he said.
A troublemaker and fighter who caused three teenage pregnancies (his other two children survived), Jones emphasizes his ignorance — he wanted to call the police after the abortion, because he didn’t know it was legal — to highlight his innate knowledge that life begins at conception and, conversely, the incongruity of the argument that it starts sometime after.
Jones promised Katie he would end abortion, and he began his pro-life campaign by going door-to-door. At the suggestion of a senior officer, he drafted a 40-year-plan to reach his goal; it included a college degree — he figured no one would listen to a private with a GED — and his education continued at the University of Hawaii.
There, he formed a pro-life student group, joined forces with Hawaii Right to Life and began a long and fruitful collaboration with local, state, national and international pro-life organizations.
“I pretty much had every position one could have if you wanted to end abortion in Hawaii,” he said.
Jones was also dipping into politics, running campaigns for pro-life candidates, and he felt the misery of defeat when two of his candidates lost in one election year, and a committee chair refused to hear a bill banning partial-birth abortion, despite signatures of support from her mother, husband and children.
In a low moment, Jones unleashed an angry prayer. He challenged God (if he did, in fact, exist) to show him rich, powerful, famous people who could help him reverse public opinion. That was 1999, and Jones can only explain his subsequent success — in meeting influential people, finding funding and making award-winning, pro-life films — as a prayer answered.
In the end, it was not a church, but rather the atheist philosophers Sartre and Nietzsche who delivered Jones to Christianity. Their belief that God did not exist, therefore people did not exist in his likeness and had no special dignity, penetrated and upended his lifelong atheism.
Christians, he said, must insist on the “incomparable dignity and worth” of each human life.
Alas, religious and pro-life sentiments are not trendy in Hollywood. He compares the current climate with the Nazi-era Poland endured by the man who would become Pope John Paul II — “Catholic and pro-life expressions in art are all but forbidden.”
Listing movies with pro-life themes made in recent years — his own “Bella,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Crescendo,” but also “The Waitress,” “Juno” and even the comedy “Knocked Up” — Jones feels the tides are turning.
“We’re seeing something amazing happen,” he said. “God has given us all the grace we need to transform our culture of death into a culture of life.”
It was “Bella,” the award-winning independent film he made with equally passionate pro-life actor Eduardo Verástegui, which saved 1,000 lives. Jones wanted to hear of one, just one, abortion prevented.
“In the seven years since our movie was in theaters, we’ve received letters from more than 1,000 women,” he said.
During his speech, Jones tried to convey that sense of hope, telling dedicated pro-life activists how long-awaited change can come “in the blink of an eye,” as quickly as the Soviet regime and Nazi empire fell after prolonged, painful reigns.
Jones also urged pro-lifers to be more than mediocre politically. Simply voting for pro-life candidates is not enough, he said. For him, a pro-life platform should be part of both parties, not exclusive to one.
He’s currently promoting “Gimme Shelter,” a movie about a homeless, pregnant teen that will be showing in 500 theaters (See Catholic Herald, Jan. 30). He hopes it will touch many lives.
“Really, for me, film is just another way for me to live out my apostolate,” said the husband and father of seven children, the youngest an infant.
Also speaking at the banquet were emcee Dan Hartman, director of Glensheen Mansion, and Nicole Barousse, a member of Guiding Star’s board of directors. She explained the organization’s objectives.
“Our mission at Guiding Star Duluth is collaboration,” she said.
Guiding Star serves as a connector for smaller, localized pro-life groups, and its members seek to support and empower women while transforming families, networks and the culture of the Northland. Nationally, the organization builds centers that offer medical care, birthing space, counseling, childcare and other family support services.
Of the 10,000 abortions performed in Minnesota in 2012, 500 of them took place in Duluth, said Fr. Eric Hastings, a Diocese of Duluth priest who closed the event with a financial appeal. He doesn’t make much money, Hastings said, but he still pledged $1,000.
“This is a worthy cause,” he added.
Last year’s banquet raised $40,000 for regional pro-life groups.