- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008

Today is the saddest of anniversaries.

Dec. 28 is known as the Massacre of the Innocents, named after the slaughter of a whole city’s worth of baby boys younger than 2, ordered by King Herod when he was told by the wise men that a messiah had been born in Bethlehem within the past two years.

Although Jesus - spirited out of town at night by his parents in response to an angelic warning - managed to escape the carnage, the rest of the male children were not so lucky. Their deaths as the first Christian martyrs have always been observed three days after Christmas.

Two thousand years later, the massive taking of infant lives has been applied to America’s annual tally of 1.2 million abortions.

Which is why I spent one night last week watching the 2007 movie “Bella,” about a restaurant chef, Jose, who learns that one of the waitresses, Nina, is unexpectedly pregnant. When she announces her plans to have an abortion, he offers to adopt her unborn child.

The film ends four years later, with an iconic beach scene showing Jose teaching an angelic little girl how to do cartwheels in the sand. The scene is interrupted by the arrival of Nina, who has come to see her daughter for the first time since her birth. She breaks down in tears, realizing she almost did not let her daughter live.

Every life and every person makes a difference, says Tim Drake, a senior writer for the National Catholic Register, who recently wrote a book about the movie. Called “Behind Bella: The Amazing Stories of Bella and the Lives It’s Changed,” it talks about a succession of providential incidents that brought the low-budget film ($3 million) together. It has grossed more than $8 million domestically and $3.3 million overseas.

The book points out that actress Tammy Blanchard, who plays Nina, actually did get pregnant out of wedlock soon after the film had been made. Whereas she felt having children was “pointless” before appearing in the film, afterward she realized the immensity of giving life. Her little girl, Ava Jean, was born last December.

The lead actor, Eduardo Verastegui, visited an abortion clinic just before the film was shot so he could get an appreciation for the plight of single, pregnant women. He ended up counseling a young couple he met at the clinic who decided not to go ahead with the abortion. Nine months later, little Eduardito was born.

At least 30 people who were planning abortions changed their minds after seeing the film, Mr. Drake says, adding that his mother was pressured to have an abortion when she was pregnant with him 41 years ago.

“I’ve talked with some post-abortive women who’ve seen the film,” he said, “and they say, ‘I wish I had had a Jose in my life to encourage me.’”

He became interested in “Bella” after it won the 2007 People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film Festival. Like the Christmas movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the film “Bella” majors on the theme of each existence having incredible meaning.

The movie was an unlikely venture, as it was director Alejandro Monteverde’s first feature-length film. One of the key investors, Sean Wolfington, was new at films. Mr. Verastegui had acted mainly in Mexican soap operas.

“Filmmakers and other folks made the film even though it didn’t make sense,” Mr. Drake said. “When you say ‘yes’ to God, there is always new life.”

c Julia Duin’s “Stairway to Heaven” column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at [email protected] times.com.

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