A woman saw the models and immediately summoned her young daughter.
Together, they marveled at the display of realistic replicas of babies at various stages of development in the womb, including 12 weeks and 20 weeks.
“Mine’s at 17 weeks!” the mother announced with delight.
“They grow on you, don’t they?” another visitor commented.
“They do! Literally!” the mother said through laughter.
This was one of the countless exchanges at the Missouri Right to Life (MRL) booth at the 2023 Missouri State Fair.
The theme for this year’s 10-day fair was “Where Traditions Grow.”
One such tradition is pairs of volunteers representing many backgrounds and faith traditions staffing the pro-life booth right inside the entrance to one of the historical exhibit buildings.
Members of the Sedalia MRL chapter and surrounding chapters have been doing this for the past 49 fairs.
“The State Fair is a great way to meet people from all across Missouri and help them realize that a baby in the womb is alive and fully human from the moment of his or her conception,” said Bonnie Diefendorf, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Sedalia.
“We do this in a way that’s loving, non-argumentative and non-confrontational, because our goal is to change people’s hearts,” she said.
Recent developments have given abortion a higher profile in Missouri and throughout the country.
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 and 1992 decisions that had legalized abortion-on-demand throughout the United States.
A “trigger law” that had been passed by the Missouri General Assembly immediately went into effect at that time, outlawing most elective abortions in the state.
Several groups are now trying to bring elective abortion back to Missouri by amending the state’s Constitution.
As the pro-life booth’s longtime coordinator, Mrs. Diefendorf gives an orientation to first-time volunteers each year.
She encourages them to stay positive with visitors and show compassion for people who may have been personally touched by abortion.
She said that despite the issue heating up in the headlines, this year’s fair was smooth sailing for the volunteers.
“All who reported back to me related really positive responses and thank-yous for being present,” she stated.
Total donations given at the booth increased from $50 to $500 this year.
Aug. 18 was Tammy Paulsen’s first time volunteering on the front lines at the fair.
“It was a good experience with good interactions,” said Ms. Paulsen, who is director of Crossroads Family Ministries in Cole Camp.
“The time was well spent, encouraging others to keep up the fight to protect life within the womb,” she said.
She noticed that the models of pre-born babies drew quite a bit of attention, “especially from pregnant ladies.”
“We did not have any deep conversations with anyone during my four-hour shift but did have many encouraging exchanges between passers-by who agreed with the pro-life message,” she said.
A week ahead of the fair, volunteers stocked boxes of tote bags, pens, lapel buttons, refrigerator clips, bumper stickers and other freebies for each day of the event.
“People wanted lots of materials,” said Mrs. Diefendorf, who works the opening shift on the first day and the closing shift on the last day of the fair each year.
“They cleaned us out of bumper stickers, bookmarks and ‘precious feet,’” she said.
“Precious feet” are a lapel pin that shows the size of a baby’s feet at 10 weeks after conception.
This was Mrs. Diefendorf’s 48th year spending time in the booth. The only fair she’s missed was the year her daughter was born in August.
“We gave out about 3,500 totes, and hundreds of ‘babies’ and stickers” this year, she noted.
By “babies,” she was referring to “Precious Ones,” tiny molded images accurately depicting what a baby looks like after 12 weeks in the womb.
The models, small enough to fit into someone’s pocket but large enough for them to know it’s there, are the favorite freebee for most children and teens.
Teresa Rider of Sedalia shared the shift with Ms. Paulsen this year.
She spoke of a how a few years ago, volunteers were asking visitors to the booth to sign a petition to outlaw abortion at 20 weeks after conception.
“I remember one woman saying, ‘I won’t sign that. I’m pro-choice!’” said Ms. Rider. “I showed her the 20-week baby model and told her, ‘But we’re talking about a baby this size!’”
Dumbfounded, the woman signed the petition.
“That shows you the importance of these models,” said Ms. Paulsen. “They say a lot more than we can.”
Ms. Rider recalled another time, when young visitor asked what “right to life” means.
“I had to explain that we’re against people having abortions, because we believe every life inside and outside of the womb has the right to life,” she told the visitor.
They talked a little about the arguments people give for keeping abortion-on-demand legal, and Ms. Rider provided some good answers.
“And then she says, ‘Wow, I have to think about this. You’ve given me something to think about,’” Ms. Rider recalled.
Only once over the years was someone so angry and belligerent with her that all she could offer was a promise of prayer.
“I could see the woman was really hurting,” said Ms. Rider. “I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone, that I would pray for her.”