From a distance, eight red-draped tables extending nearly the full width of the south steps of Minnesota’s State Capitol building in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Jan. 22 stirred curiosity.
But at close range, many of the 3,500 pro-lifers and others gathered to march for life reacted more strongly at the sight of 12,000 models of unborn children of different races and gestation stages laid out together in a way that living babies in the womb never would be.
The unique display of lifelike fetal models was assembled to represent the 12,175 babies that the Minnesota Department of Health reported were killed by abortion in the state in 2022, a 20% increase from the year before, according to Cathy Blaeser, co-executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), which organized the display.
As part of MCCL’s annual March for Life in St. Paul, marking the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states, the display was the first of its kind for the Minneapolis-based nonprofit, she said.
When abortion was legalized in the U.S. more than 50 years ago, Minnesotans and all Americans knew the number of lives lost, Blaeser said. But “the number starts to numb you and you don’t really realize what that looks like; and so to see 12,000 unborn babies, to just have a better understanding of what that number means and what that loss of life really looks like, I think we need to be awakened out of that. There [have been more than] 63 million abortions since Roe was legalized. The numbers of people that we have lost as a nation, as a state, are tragic.”
The models of unborn babies at first- and second-trimester stages of development corresponded as much as possible to health department records of fetal development and race, she said, adding that it wasn’t possible to obtain models of every week of development.
The models reflect that, in 2022, nearly as many babies of color were aborted as white babies in Minnesota, despite the fact that persons of color made up17.4% of residents, according to recent U.S. Census data.
Inspiration for the project came from two MCCL supporters, Blaeser said, following Democrat lawmakers’ passage of radical pro-abortion laws during Minnesota’s 2023 legislative session.
“When the  numbers came out, it just brought more to the forefront that really we need to see what that number looks like to be able to bring that to people,” Blaeser said.
Along with the display, the march also featured prayers, songs, speeches by Blaeser and Don Parker, also MCCL co-executive director, and a 15-year-old young woman’s testimony of being born with a heart defect. The event garnered more local media attention than previous marches, likely because of the display, Blaeser said.
Marchers arriving at the Capitol grounds were asked to carry fetal models and place them on the display tables. One marcher who carried a model was Michelle Kelash, of Hinckley, Minnesota, who attends St. Patrick parish in Hinckley.
“I thought that was a very good idea,” said Kelash, who attended the march with her husband.
She added that at other times she has carried a small model in her pocket and thinks it’s a good idea “if we all had one in our pocket in our lives, and [when] someone talked about abortion, to take it out.”
Toward the end of the march, volunteers gathered up, one by one, the pieces of fabric that each contained about 1,500 models and carried them inside the Capitol building. Each piece of fabric was laid on one of the eight points of a star in the floor at the center of the Capitol’s rotunda. Marchers and passersby of all ages quietly observed the display, while a group of teens sitting near it prayed intently.
“We know that there were tons of youth [at the march] and afterwards the youth inside the rotunda just praying and crying and just absorbing,” Blaeser said. “People were just absorbing what they were seeing.”
MCCL developed and funded the supporters’ idea for the display, which also was made possible through the work of a craftsman who handmade hundreds of the models. The supporters have asked to remain anonymous, Blaeser said.
At least 500 of the second-trimester fetal models were handmade out of rubber by a Snowflake, Arizona, company called Heritage House 76, which offers pro-life-related products.
For a month, one of the company’s craftsmen, Raul Gomez, worked 14 to 16 hours a day, six days a week, to fulfill the order for larger-size models made during a roughly-eight-hour molding and curing process, said Missie Amata, the director.
(To see a video of the process, click here and then click on the last thumbnail under the larger picture on the page.)
“It’s a very labor-intensive production process and you can only make so many per day,” she said.
Although Heritage House 76 has sold thousands of fetal models, especially smaller ones, Amata said the company hadn’t received an order for so many larger ones. “Nobody’s every told me they were doing something like this project,” she said.
MCCL has spent roughly $50,000 on the project, hoping for a strong impact, Blaeser said. “It’s one thing to have this idea of what you’re going to do, but to see it was really impactful, not just for the crowd,” she said. “It was impactful for all of us at MCCL, as well. It just was pretty amazing.”
Several donors have offered to help cover the display costs, Blaeser said, adding that MCCL welcomes any other donations to help pay for the project on its site.
The nonprofit hasn’t yet decided if it will repeat the display next year, but the cost will likely be higher, as a preliminary report shows a 50% increase in abortion in 2023 over the previous year — with as many as 17,000 abortions committed, Blaeser said. The total may reflect more women traveling to the state for abortions from states with more restrictive abortion laws, as lawmakers last year passed laws to make Minnesota a sanctuary for abortion.
Whether or not MCCL assembles an even larger display to reflect even more tragic totals in 2023, it does plan to display some of the models at Minnesota’s state fair and county fairs around the state, to help more people visualize the children lost to abortion, Blaeser said. “People who are sitting next to us in the pews know something bad happened, but they don’t know what it was, and they really don’t want to know what it was,” she said, adding that those who know about the tragedy of abortion need to tell others that lives have been lost and continue to be lost.
“We can’t turn it around if we don’t know.”