Everything I Needed to Know About Abortion, I Learned at the Fair

Summer 1982


My parents have taken us to the fair.  It’s the summer I’m seven.  It’s really, really hot, and we’ve been on the midway all day.  It was a good day, more yeses than no’s, elephant ears, funhouse mirrors, and a helium balloon that floated away as soon as my little sister declared her love for it.

We head inside, to the exhibitions.  Maybe there’ll be something inside the agricultural halls that can make my sister stop crying over the balloon, now floating high above the city, headed for the American border.   We wander through the food fair section, stopping to buy some pink shrimp chips.  She stops crying, not because she likes the chips, but because she’s trying to figure out what the hell these puffy pink, slightly foul-smelling things are.

There are booths set up on the other side of the huge building.  Pots and pans for sale.  Miracle brooms.  Booths where you can sign up for the Armed Forces, right then and there.  We pass by a booth, and someone calls my mother’s name.  We’re in mom’s hometown, and this is someone she went to high school with.  Mom and the woman start chatting; I’m bored, but I know I need to look polite.  I focus on the sign over the woman’s head.  I make out the words “Pro-Life”, “Murder”, and “Jesus”.  But the word “Abortion”, I have some trouble with.  I’m trying to sound it out, when I catch a snippet of their conversation. 

“It’s the videos that get me.  I can’t even watch them.  Most times, I have to turn the TV the other way.”  She turns the screen, and so I get a side-view of what she’s talking about.  I see a doctor in a mask, something that looks an awful lot like our old green canister vacuum.  And then, what I’m pretty sure are doll parts, floating inexplicably in cherry jello.

They chat a bit longer:  “Horrible what these women do!”  “I can’t imagine being a murderer.  How could you LIVE with yourself?”  Then we walk away.  I look at my mother, and she tells me we’ll talk when I’m older.



Summer 1985


My sister and I are staying with the Big City relatives (who we aren’t actually related to, but through a dense and tangled system of associations, we have always called them Aunt and Uncle and don’t really care about DNA).  The Aunt takes us to the Big City Fair.  She lets us pick the rides, eat what we want, play the rigged games we can’t possibly win.  When the sun is directly over us, she declares the need for shade and water, so we go inside to the Exhibitions.  We watch the Super-Dogs, check out the vendors.  I notice the same kinds of booths as were at the last Big Fair we went to.  The same household doodads, the army still waiting for Bright Young People, and the same Causes, beckoning folks in, to tell them why it was important that they think a certain way.


This time, I knew what the word “abortion” meant.  I’d looked it up in one of the dictionaries in school.  (I even had my story ready, in case I got caught by a teacher, looking up a clandestine word.  I would tell her I was wondering what ‘abolished’ meant.  And the teacher would think I was incredibly advanced for even knowing such a word.  But she never did ask.)  I knew it was Serious. 


The Aunt looked at the booth.  Her eyes narrowed.  She muttered some things under her breath.  “Tell me what to do with my body?” “Where do you get off…”


When I looked at her, she turned, stared straight ahead.  “Just never mind them, Ginny.”


That night, the Aunt had guests over.  No kids, just more grown-ups.  I sat in the corner of the living room, trying to be invisible.


“Those god-damned pro-lifers just make me so… mad!  I just wanted to march over there, ask them if they were going to take care of all those unwanted babies.  I mean, personally, were they prepared to take on those kids?  If they don’t want abortions, they don’t have to have them.  Do we need to go back to women dying, with coat-hangers up their…”


One of the guests coughs, darts her eyes towards me.  The Aunt stops, smiles at me, resignedly.


“I think maybe it’s time for bed, kiddo.”



I lay in her guest room that night.  Thinking.  I had been right; it was a Serious thing.  But in more ways than I could have known.


41 responses to “Everything I Needed to Know About Abortion, I Learned at the Fair

  1. children are much more perceptive than adults realize. you at least were exposed to two opposing positions, and i hope no one forced an opinion down your young throat.

    at 12 and 10 years old, i recruited my kids to work with me at the book fair, sponsored by the local planned parenthood. intended to teach them a little about community service, we had a grand time togther.

    it wasn’t until we were leaving the parking lot that they saw a man dressed as the grim reaper, holding up graphic posters of abortion products. which led to the conversation about folks who disagree with one aspect of the planned parenthood mission… (sigh)

  2. I went to a fair for the first time last year. There were a lot of people holding McCain Palin signs. I went in this one building and saw a bunch of cows, just standing there being bored. I thought maybe they were there to teach kids how to milk cows.

    Then the reason they were really there hit me, so I yelled at the cows, and God knows why I do this stuff, “You’re all gonna die!”

    Maybe one day a vegetarian will feature me in a blog? I did see a few horrified kids looking at me before Honey dragged me away.

  3. Well-framed. And well remembered. It seems the arguments haven’t changed significantly in our lifetimes — on either side.

  4. You made me feel like I was there.

  5. I had a horribly stupid moment as I was reading the comments that went: were the cows really there to die? I don’t understand. And now I’m trying to figure out where I first heard about abortion. Funnily enough, it wasn’t parochial school. I didn’t even learn about masturbation there. I think it’s interesting that you have such vivid memories of it.

    • But did you learn that you could be forgiven? Because I’ve heard that’s pretty important to Protestant boys, looking to take advantage of Parochial school girls.

  6. that’s so well written Ginny that I hesitate to add this link. but I’m doing it anyway…..


  7. i think it was Barney Frank who said, ” Republicans worry about health care from conception til birth” i guess after that we’re on our own…
    and i’m in the same camp as your aunt, your body, your choice, i work near a Planned Parenthood where you can sponsor one of the picketeers which i think i hilarious, i often like to tell the bible thumping American Taliban that Jesus effing hates them, always with a big smile and have looked into being one of the guys who escorts the women in and out of the clinic so people don’t harass them, being tall and scary helps and i don’t think these women need some asshat screaming at them after they’ve had to make a decision like that besides the opportunity to clock the first moron who gets to close makes me giddy.

    • There seems to be a large subset of people who are both homophobic and against abortion rights. And I’ve always wanted to say to one of them, “Well, look at it this way. At least 10% of those fetuses were going to be fags. Maybe it IS god’s work?”

  8. Great post! A story very well-told. What were they doing at the fair?!

    The pro-lifers had a billboard near where I used to live. It had a giant picture of an dead fetus on it. A fetus that was much older than can legally be aborted, even. It came out in the news later that it was a picture taken from a still-birth, a picture of a mature, almost ready to be born fetus being used to shock people. My kids saw the billboard and asked, “Mommy, what’s wrong with that baby?” I think these tactics are unforgivable. Sick and unforgivable.

    • Rural areas love their pro-life movement. That’s why it’s not even weird to see them at a fair. I’m visiting my in-laws right now, and on the front page of the paper, from the parade a week ago, is a big picture of the Pro-Life association proudly marching their banner down mainstreet.

    • Why is it that you find displaying the pictures of what is going on sick and unforgivable rather than what is going on sick and unforgivable? I don’t think there’s anything sick about showing people the truth.

      • Pro-life tactics are sick in so many ways, but lets start with the fact that you think it is okay to parent my children with scare tactics that could be scarring for a child who does not comprehend. I guess it is consistent..taking away choices for an expectant woman and taking away parenting choices for those who have children. For a group that purports to be so concerned with the well-being of fetal lives, it seems that once these babies turn into children the concern no longer persists. I am sure pro-lifers would argue concern for both, but there lies the paradox of their beliefs and behavior.

  9. Great post. So perfectly written.
    The first pro-lifers I met were at the Catholic fair and they just had the pictures of a fetus growing.
    I remember coming home from Catholic school explaining to my mom how evil abortion was, and then she had a little talk with me, telling me about all the gray areas and how we couldn’t decide for some one else.

  10. This is so well written, and it captures so much about childhood. Kids are so often exposed to more than they’re ready for, and usually when adults think they’re not looking. Situations like this – which can seem relatively insignificant to adults – can be something that sticks with a child and never leaves. I have many seemingly insignificant memories floating around my head – I’m sorry yours had to be abortion at the fair.

    • Thanks, Ami. I’m not sorry at all. I was going to figure it out eventually. I just think it’s kind of great that I had both sides “presented” to me, leaving me to figure out where I stood.

  11. It’s even weirder that a lot of these anti abortion people are pro death penalty. So, you’re worth saving before you’re born, but not worth saving if you’re convicted of a crime. And I also find it weird that they bomb clinics and shoot doctors. It makes no sense. At all. But then they say that God loves everyone. *shaking head*

    I’ve just read a book written by an abortion doctor and it was fascinating: This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund. It’s amazing the crap the anti abortion people did to scare this woman off of performing abortions. Didn’t scare her, though. But I was exhausted reading it from all that they did.

  12. So, did your mother ever talk to you about it when you were older? More importantly, HOW FUCKING COOL ARE BIG FAIRS?

    The answer is very.

  13. I have never been to a “big fair,” but now I think I’m missing out on an important part of my social development.

  14. American fairs sure have strange stands. But then our town fair has a beer stand run by our very own local Extreme Rightist party. Also scum.

  15. I learned a lot about a lot of things – mostly sex – at the county fair. But we never got to this end of sex.

    Fucking wonderfully written, Ginny.

  16. This is wonderful – I mean the writing not the content (obviously). I was pro-life when I was a fundy. That was also before I realized how complex an issue abortion really was. Now I’m decidedly pro-choice.

  17. It is a tricky argument indeed.

    All I can say is that without personal experience to speak from I have no business telling anybody else what to think or do. I’m pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean pro-abortion. My personal choice would be another option, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to take that choice away from others. Time and again, we’ve seen that the hangers and alleys come back, and our societal attempts to fix the institutions of family, sex and marriage to prevent the choice from having to be made in the first place haven’t fixed jack. Making it illegal doesn’t make it stop, it just makes it worse.

    Anyways, I really liked this post – how you presented both sides (and how you were presented both sides) is very interesting. Far more objective than I can say for myself!

  18. Reminds me somewhat of my childhood, for some reason. Sometimes I could not help avoid adults talking about religion, discussing different views, from my bedroom. I became an atheist by 12.

  19. greenduckiesgirl

    This was very well written. The fair was an interesting way to find about politics. I remember seeing pamphlets about legalizing marijuana before I even knew what it was. I learned about abortions from the neighbor kids and it scared the hell out of me.

  20. I loved this post and subsequent discussion…especially your comment (Ginny) on pro-life and homophobia. WHat I liked best about your post is that I learned about/ was exposed to pro-life propaganda in exactly the same way, at the same age. Hyde Park festival, creepy tent blundered into unknowingly, 7 years old. It had an effect even then, and that effect was NOT to make me a pro-lifer.

    Don’t even get me started about the tastelessness and cruelty of pro-life campaign tactics!

  21. I learned about abortions from those same fair people. I think I might have even been on the other side of the booth, or at least related to them.

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