Who Are the Pro-Life Heroes? What Inspired Them?
An interview with Jason Jones
An inspiring new book, Legacy of Life, highlights 50 of the most influential pro-life leaders from the last 50 years. The book launches on June 26, 2023. This limited edition commemorative table book contains 50 tributes written by 50 of America’s most respected national influencers honoring the greatest founders, builders, strategists, and innovators of the pro-life movement during the last 50 years. Each leader is honored with a tribute, personal photos, and a customized frame in this remarkable collection of inspiring life stories of resilience, bravery, and commitment. The Stream’s John Zmirak interviewed pro-life leader Jason Jones about the book.
John Zmirak: Jason, I first heard about this book when you asked me to do some research for an entry you’d been asked to contribute to it. Whom did you write about and why? Can you offer Stream readers a choice quote from your tribute?
Jason Jones: I had the privilege of being asked by John Stemberger to write about Kristen Hawkins, the founder of Students for Life of America. I have no doubt that she is the most important pro-life leader of her generation. It could easily be argued that she is the most consequential leader in the history of the pro-life movement. The pro-life movement has become the largest, most passionate, and most diverse social movement in our nation’s history. Students for Life of America, through Kristen’s leadership, deserve much of the credit for stewarding the movement’s growth, passion, and unity despite the challenges of our ever-flowering diversity.
So in that light, here is the quote I’d like to share from the book:
Students for Life is coherent but not dogmatic. Kristan allows a broad diversity of world views to thrive within her organization, so long as every person is grounded in one shared value: protecting every woman and child from the violence of abortion and building a culture of life and welcome. No wonder young people are drawn by the thousands each year to sign on to that vision.
Who Inspires Us?
Who are some of the other leaders and faithful laborers in the vineyard who influenced and inspired you?
As a young teenage atheist who was ambushed by abortion, many people inspired, mentored, and encouraged me along the way. Some of them are well-known leaders in the movement, and others were quiet soldiers working hard in my community.
Radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Bob Enyart inspired me with their triumphalism and use of humor. As a young college student, the speeches of Ambassador Alan Keyes communicated to me the grandeur, dignity, and honor intrinsic to the vocation of the pro-life activist. Elizabeth Anscombe, Francis Schaeffer, Hadley Arkes, and Rene Girard assured us that if abortion is a battle of the mind, we cannot lose. Mother Teresa, Saint John Paul the Great, Father Paul Marx, and Cardinal John O’Conner demonstrated that in the spiritual battle, we had already won. Mark Crutcher taught the pro-life movement to be relentless and creative. The young Bryan Kemper and Eric Whittington traveling around to rock festivals in the ’90s broke the pro-life movement’s door down, and a parade of tattooed kids with mohawks led the way for an ever-growing diversity in our movement. That diversity stood united around the most vulnerable member of the human family — the child in the womb.
Eduardo Verastegui, to many, is a film producer and movie star, but in my eyes, he is a heroic pro-life leader. Following our film Bella, he has been relentless in his advocacy for the child in the womb, not only in the United States and Mexico but worldwide. He is always willing to lend his name and fame for the defense of children. The latest example is his film The Sound of Freedom.
And, of course, in every city, village, borough, parish, and neighborhood, there are the quiet, local pro-life heroes who knit together the subversive, hidden, anti-fragile civilization of love from which all these leaders arose and worked. As a young college student, a local auto dealer Steve Holck gave me my first cell phone and a day planner, mentoring me on how to be more professional in my activism.
Garret Hashimoto would drag me across as a young atheist across Hawaii to pastor breakfasts. These meetings opening my mind and heart to eventually accepting the truth of Jesus Christ.
Mike and Carrol Gabbard demonstrated passion didn’t have to be angry, and hatred could authentically be responded to with a gentle smile and love.
Andy Blom, a successful ad man from the East Coast, who retired to Hawaii and lent his talents to our fledgling pro-life movement, taught me the press release.
Mark Moses, a Hawaii State Representative, taught me the power of friendship in advancing political goals. Democrat longtime mayor of Honolulu, Frank Fasi, demonstrated the courage of standing up to your friends and your party. There are Andy Bloms and Garret Hashimotos in every corner of America — to them goes the credit for the overturning of Roe v Wade.
They Told Us Roe v. Wade Was “Settled Law”
The pro-life movement might be the greatest comeback story in American history. We were blindsided in 1973, handed a total and unconditional defeat by the highest court in our land. We were faced with a decision, Roe v. Wade, which barely even bothered to cite any precedents and fudged about where it was grounded in the Constitution. Then with Planned Parenthood v. Casey, we got an even worse decision — with votes from Reagan appointees — that said that American liberty was grounded on nihilistic, arbitrary values each person just makes up. The left and much of the right thought the question was simply settled.
But pro-life Americans didn’t. Can you talk about some of those early leaders who are honored in the book?
The book comes out this week, so I don’t know all the leaders mentioned, but the early leaders that were key to the birth and life of the movement, we should never forget our Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich, Howard Philips, and Phyllis Schlafly. Richard Viguerie turned a few small associations of plumbers and secretaries into a movement with newsletters, mailing lists, donors, and, eventually, political influence. No Richard Viguerie, no movement. In their later years, Paul, Howard, and Phyliss were viewed as hard-nosed idealists, but in their younger years, they were ruthlessly practical, against all odds, breaking the pro-life movement into the GOP and turning the abortion party pro-life.
What distinguishes the pro-life movement from other social movements in America? What’s unique about it?
In a country where there is more Astroturf than natural grass, our movement is the only authentic movement left in our country. The pro-life movement has warded off countless establishment attempts to coopt and redirect it. Our passion is boundless and ever-increasing, as is our diversity. We are a movement of rosary-praying truck drivers and atheist Manhattan lawyers, vegan socialists, evangelical pastors, Mennonite farmers, bawdy stand-up comedians, and contemplative nuns. What makes us different is we are radical in the truest sense of the word — we are a movement at the root of everything.
Gold Medals and Future Hurdles
What is the greatest strength of the pro-life movement? What are its greatest weaknesses and challenges?
Our greatest strength is truth and grace. It is a movement grounded in the most fundamental truth — the truth of the human person. Though mysterious and confounding, our dignity and beauty are also inescapably apparent. And our invincible strength is the grace that comes from our creator when we stand with those expelled from the love of our community.
Our greatest challenge is the ever-increasing and bizarre eruptions of sub-humanist ideologies inflicting the human family. In the coming years, the transexual ideologies will be replaced with the temptation of transhumanism. Transhumanism will turn the wealthy and healthy against the elderly, weak, and sick. The developed world will become more exploitative of the populations living in failed states. The battle against transhumanism will be a battle that will run through all of our hearts. We all need to pray that by God’s grace we are not swept away.
Evangelize the World About the Human Person
What would you say should be the central emphasis for pro-life citizens today?
Fundamentally the pro-life citizen is not “an anti-abortion activist.” At the root, we are anthropologists. We are working to catechize the world on the truth of the human person. The truth is that each of us is the most precious creature in the cosmos. I say precious “creature’ because God created us. If we attempt to raise the human person to the most precious being in existence, we will collapse into subhumanism, and our exalted vision of the human person descends into despair and nihilism. So, the central emphasis today, as always, is to treat our neighbors as their dignity demands and work for laws that correspond to this truth.
You didn’t know it until the book was actually printed, but the editors decided to honor you as one of the 50 leaders. Can you remind us how you got involved in the pro-life cause, and what has kept you going?
When Malcolm X was asked a similar question about civil rights, he said, “I didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on me.” While he may have been talking about slavery and racism generally, I have to imagine the real force of this statement was his father being was pulled across trolley tracks and murdered.
As a seventeen-year-old soldier in Fort Benning, Georgia, I knew nothing about politics and never darkened the door of a church — Planned Parenthood fell on me via a phone call. My high school girlfriend called me breathlessly through her sobs to tell me her father dragged her to get a forced third-trimester abortion. You can say an atom was split in my soul, and the force of the explosion propels me to this day.
The Seamless Garment: A Poison Pill
You started the Whole Life movement 15 years ago, as an answer to the “Seamless Garment” poison pill invented by liberal Catholic bishops to provide political cover for pro-abortion Democrats in Catholic districts. Can you talk about that? How is it connected to your current Vulnerable People Project?
In 2007 I coined the term Whole Life when I was working as National Grassroots Director for Brownback for President. The idea was to communicate what made then-Senator Brownback different from the other candidates. He was a leader in defending the vulnerable, from “the child in the womb to the child in Darfur, from the embryo to the elderly”.
After the campaign, I saw this designation’s usefulness in differentiating the work of my organization, The Human Rights Education & Relief Organization (HERO). I founded HERO in 2002 to fight abortion and like and commensurate threats to human dignity, such as genocide, democide, and unjust total wars.
The “Seamless Garment” tactic is repulsive; it links abortion to an endless parade of ever-changing prudential issues that are almost always in no way proportional to abortion. HERO launched “I am Whole Life” as a program in 2007. By 2014, many organizations began to refer to themselves as “Whole Life,” grounded in the expression’s true meaning. Still, sadly many “Seamless garment” groups saw “Whole Life” as a rebranding opportunity. Around this time, we changed the name of “I am Whole Life” to “The Vulnerable People Project.”
You and I cowrote The Race to Save Our Century in 2014. Can you remind readers of the Whole Life Principles, and assess how accurate our warnings were about the dangers to human life and dignity around the world?
The Whole Life principles we laid out are:
- The innate dignity of every human person, regardless of race, age, or handicap.
- The existence of a transcendent moral order, by which we judge the justice of all laws and policies.
- The need for a humane economy that embraces freedom in a context of social responsibility.
- The crucial importance of decentralized, responsive government that preserves civil society and freedom.
- The need for solidarity, for a sense of fellow feeling and common obligation toward each and every member of the human race.
When we published that book I said that I thought it would prove “prophetic.” Be careful what you wish for, am I right? We warned that the world was poised for an assault by “subhumanist” worldviews that reject the sacredness of human life and the human person. Here we are, nine years later, and transgenderism attacks our very nature as creatures. Transhumanists promise to morph us into machines. Occultists hiding behind nationalism and Christian churches launch wars of conquest in Europe. The 21st century promises to make the 20th look like a stroll through the park, unless we rediscover Christ and His message of humility and hope.
Your Actions Will Echo Until the End of Time
What would your message be to pro-lifers in high school and college right now?
Instead of a message, how about a story? The week leading up to my graduation from the University of Hawaii, a leftist professor, an open Maoist actually, Dr. Oliver Lee, asked me to lunch. At lunch, he commended me for my passion but begged me to “put your abortion obsession behind you … be a conservative if you must, but your abortion activism will make you a pariah.” Strange advice from a lifelong political radical. He went on to say, “You are bright, articulate, and very talented, but you are going to end up working as a security guard at the mall.”
I thought about what he said and agreed that my commitment to ending abortion would likely make my life challenging and would lead to many doors being closed in my face. I replied to Dr. Lee, “That’s ok. I will fight abortion on my off time.” Looking back, I must confess a touch of guilt. I was open to a lonely life of hardship and obscurity, but the reality has been much different.
I have had opportunities seemingly descend from heaven, and I’ve taken everyone, worked on Hollywood movie sets, appeared on prime-time television, and worked on political campaigns from the State House to the White House; I can count Bishops and movie stars, princes and senators, influential political consultants in Washington DC and pregnancy center directors in Wyoming as friends. And I may not have been a mall cop, but one of my best friends, Eduardo Verastegui, starred in Mall Cop II.
Now, of course, I value friends who happen to be famous as much as my friends who are, more importantly, only famous in their own homes. But my point is standing with the child in the womb did not rob me of opportunities, of friends, of a family. I have a wonderful wife, seven incredible children, and the three most beautiful grandchildren in the world. Several times along the way, I have been faced with choosing to shut up on abortion and skip down the golden road that lay before me or continue to “imprudently” defend those we are told are unworthy of defending. By God’s grace, I preserved relentlessly for over three decades in the pro-life movement.
Here is my promise to you. The most challenging place to be pro-life is on a college campus. The hardest time in your life to stand up against the spirit of the age is when you are young. If you continue courageously advocating for the vulnerable, not drifting into Victimism or being blown off course by the winds of the age, you will live a beautiful, whole, rich life. You will live the life you were created to live. Your life will light up the darkness, and your actions will echo until the end of time.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”