It’s common knowledge that the showman’s main tool is misdirection: make the audience look at the right hand while the left hand does the real work. In days of the American carnival, scores of people would pay to be duped by what was called the ten-in-one, where a sideshow would offer up views of 10 freaks for a dollar, a mix of born freaks and “gaffs,” which were cobbled together attractions like the Fiji Mermaid—just distracting enough to count as entertainment under the guise educational or moral instruction. Preserved fetuses in jars, sometimes called “pickled punks,” were somewhere between natural and gaff, with many, like sideshow entrepreneur Lou Dufour “King of the Unborn Shows,” creating entire “educational” exhibits out of sometimes real and sometimes gaffed fetuses at various stages of development. In these baby shows, hustlers used pseudo-scientific language and educational framing in order to convince audiences that what they were doing more than just gawking, all the while stuffing their pockets with money from the easily misled.
The discovery of over 2,400 preserved fetuses in the home and car of recently-deceased Indiana abortion provider Dr. Ulrich Klopfer has provided an opportunity for a new King of the Unborn Show, anti-abortion Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, to use sleight-of-hand to keep his job. Hill, accused of drunkenly sexually assaulting four colleagues, will preside over a “funeral” for the fetuses before burying them in a mass grave as part of his reelection campaign for a second term in office.
No one knows how or why the preserved remains, dating back to 2000s, stayed in Klopfer’s possession. Some were found in his garage after his death in September, others in the trunk of a car he owned. ABC News reports speculation that Klopfer had a hoarding disorder or kept the remains to lower costs. But the German-born doctor, who once came under fire for performing an abortion on a 10-year-old girl who was raped by her uncle and whose medical license was suspended in 2016, is the perfect mad scientist boogeyman for Hill’s pseudo-moralistic anti-abortion performance.
Hill is running his campaign on a platform of even greater abortion restrictions in Indiana, a state that already has some of the harshest laws in the country, with just nine operating clinics open. In 2016, then-governor Mike Pence signed a law mandating the burial or cremation of fetal remains, driving up abortion costs and perfectly setting the stage for opportunists like Hill to provide grandstanding funerals for cells in formaldehyde in order to distract from the fact that four living people claim that he touched their bodies without permission.
And his gawking marks are loving it, according to ABC News: “‘I’m so grateful that, finally, the bodies of these little boys and girls will be treated with the dignity they deserved,’ said Cathie Humbarger, who heads Right to Life in northeast Indiana.”
Hill is not the only con artist using fetuses to pretend they care about living humans. Almost all of the states clamoring for stricter abortion laws also have the highest infant mortality rates in the country: Indiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia. While the politicians in each of these states trot out the idea of pickled punks to win power, live babies are dying because labels like “pro-life” are card slogans meant to bilk gullible people out of their votes and keep them too distracted by the performance to ask any hard questions about the plausibility of the act.