Little did they know the profound difference their first film — Bella — would have beyond the theater, specifically in the lives of at least 15 women and their children.
The film has not only made a difference in their lives, but it has saved them.
Just ask 21-year-old Leigha Lawrence of Derry, N.H. When she was a junior in college last June — and known as Leigha Leary — she discovered that she was pregnant. Frightened and uncertain what to do, she made an appointment at an abortion business. Her boyfriend, Ramsey, went along.
The abortion counselor presented Leary with all the options — adoption, keeping the child and abortion.
Leary had hoped to graduate and open a day spa. A child wasn’t part of her plans.
“I was so indecisive. I was caught pretty off-guard,” said Leary. “I had my life plans made.”
Leary met with a pro-life counselor with the San Antonio-based Operation Outcry who shared her experience of abortion in college.
When Bella opened in theaters last October, Leary and her boyfriend attended with his parents. She said that watching it was like watching a movie of her life.
“The movie struck close to home,” said Leary. “With their walks on the beach, it reminded me a lot of us. I was like Nina — shocked. Ramsey was like Jose — so supportive and really strong. The movie was healing and therapeutic.”
Within weeks of seeing the film, Leary decided to name the child Isabella if the baby was a girl.
Leigha and Ramsey were married on Dec. 14, 2007. On March 29, 2008, they gave birth to a daughter, Isabella Grace, whom they call Bella.
Lawrence’s story isn’t unique. Directors at crisis pregnancy centers across the United States have spoken of the impact the film has made on young women choosing life for their children. In fact, those involved with the film have taken to calling it “the entertainment ultrasound,” referring to the statistic that between 90%-95% of women who are able to see an ultrasound of their unborn baby ultimately make a decision for life.
To date, the filmmakers are aware of 15 cases where women considering abortion have decided for life after seeing the movie.
“Pregnancy centers have fallen in love with Bella,” said Kristin Hansen, vice president of communications with Care Net, the national pregnancy center network. “They love how it captures the heart of their ministry. In the character Nina’s face, they see every client who walks in the doors of pregnancy centers — often scared, alone and convinced that abortion is their only option.”
Sylvia Johnson, executive director of the Houston Pregnancy Help Center, saw a 23-year-old abortion-minded client last November after the film’s opening.
“She told me, ‘This weekend I saw my favorite Mexican soap opera star. I went to see Bella,’” Johnson recalled the woman telling her. She then said that she didn’t think she could have the abortion.
“I didn’t have to do any counseling,” said Johnson. “The movie did it for me.”
Bella, however, has shown that not only that there are alternatives, but also that they aren’t alone.
Anne Lotierzo, executive director of Pregnancy Care Center in Fort Pierce, Fla., said she saw the impact of the film immediately after they started playing the DVD in their waiting room.
The first evening Lotierzo had the DVD, she played it in the center’s waiting room. That night three teenagers came into the center, two girls and a boy.
“Both of the girls wanted to take pregnancy tests,” said Lotierzo “By the time I had finished seeing one, the other girl had gotten through a good part of the movie. As I walked her back to the counseling room, I casually asked her what she thought of the film.”
“She said, ‘Now I know I’m not alone,’” said Lotierzo. “It impacted me and brought back the fears and the loneliness that young teens feel when they come in for a pregnancy test. We see the same-case scenario over and over, but for each of them it’s like they have blinders on. They only see what’s in front of them.”
The film offered the teen the opportunity to address the fears and worries that she had — fears about her parents, about her boyfriend’s parents, about returning to school pregnant in the fall. She knew her parents’ feelings, because an older sister had gotten pregnant and ran away from home to live with her boyfriend because of pressure from her parents to abort the child.
“I felt the film was the key to opening the door to the session,” said Lotierzo.
Based on the powerful effect the film is having on young women, one of the film’s co-executive producers has launched an ambitious charitable foundation effort to get a copy of the film into the hands of any client who wants one.
Jason Jones recently unveiled the Bella Bogo (bellabogo.com) and Bella Hero (bellahero.com) program. Both are designed to accept charitable donations in order to purchase copies of the film and donate them to crisis pregnancy centers across the country.
“Our prayer during the theatrical release was that young women in a crisis pregnancy would buy a ticket to the movie,” said Jones. “Now, we can bring the film directly to them.”
Both Care Net and Heartbeat International have agreed to participate, making the DVDs available to their clients at more than 1,800 crisis pregnancy centers. Heartbeat International, Jones noted, provides 60,000 pregnancy tests annually.
Jones’ goal is to distribute 60,000 DVDs by January 2009. Through the websites, donors can specify where they want their DVD to go, or they can contribute to the general fund. Through the BellaBogo (based on Buy One Get One) website, for $35, donors can purchase one copy of the film for themselves while giving another to a crisis pregnancy center.
Through the partner BellaHero.com campaign, Jones is asking men to sponsor a center.
One in three men has been responsible for an abortion in this country,” said Jones, who himself is a post-abortive father.
“The goal is about changing how a woman’s family and friends respond to her,” said Jones. “It’s about helping those around her to help her make a choice for life. Women may not ask their family to watch an educational video, but they will ask them to watch Bella.”
Those responsible for the film aren’t taking credit.
Said Alejandro Monteverde, the film’s director, “I know it wasn’t me or anyone else in the team. I’m amazed, and it gives me encouragement to keep making films like this.”
While the film didn’t receive any Oscars, producer Leo Severino said it’s received far more.
“The living Oscars have been the babies saved and the babies adopted,” said Severino. “I’m just happy the Lord let us be part of it.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
For More Information: Bellabogo.com