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Fetus-Shaped Potatoes? Going Undercover Inside the Weird World of Right-Wing Abortion Foes

I went undercover to a Pro-Life Federation conference. What I found there was not "middle America" or even conservative America. It was fringe America.

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"I don't even know where I'll find time to read all this stuff," said one of the women at my table as she shuffling glossy fliers and handouts. "What do you do?" she asked, turning to me.

"I'm a writer," I replied. "And you?"

"I was a fifth-grade math teacher," she said.

"It must be wonderful to teach math to students at that age," I said, "Because it's absolute."

"Like absolute truth," said the other woman, shaking her head and placing her hand on mine. A beat.

"I don't believe in absolute truth," I said, my exasperation at the day's content and its smug, self-righteous delivery coming through. Her face was blank. "I think truth is a cultural construct," I continued, relishing my outbreak. "I think religion is a cultural construct, too." Her mouth hanged still and open.

"Have a safe drive home," I amended and hustled out of the ballroom, skirting the tables as I made for the exit. A young girl stood at the top of the steps.

"Would you like a Precious One?" she asked, pushing a rubber fetus into my hand. "It's the real weight and size of a 12-week-old unborn baby." The look and feel of the object made me shudder. I shoved it into my pocket.

I drove back to New York City through sheets of rain realizing that I had not spent the day in "middle America" or even conservative America.

Fringe America was in that Hilton Hotel ballroom, surrounded by cross-stitched banners and slap-dash PowerPoint presentations, too engrossed in one simple message -- "We Love Life!" -- to allow complications like poverty or quality of life, suffering or unsentimental ideas to intrude on their sense of righteous community.

As the city skyline came into view, I acknowledged that I was a little jealous. I missed righteous community and absolute truth. Like math, both came with the security of right answers.

But I also knew I didn't miss them enough to give up the other messy, ugly, glorious, beautiful, non-absolutes of life. I had come to relish another kind of self-righteousness, making up my own answers and framing them as questions.

Ann Neumann is writing a book about death, grief and travel. She lives in Red Hook in Brooklyn, N.Y. She authors the blog

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