Anti-abortion protester’s appeal quashed

Pro and anti-choice protesters in Melbourne in 2008.

The Supreme Court of Victoria handed down its judgement on March 21, quashing the appeal of an anti-abortion protester who had been convicted for displaying images of aborted foetuses.

Michelle Fraser, an anti-abortion protester, had displayed placards of aborted foetuses with anti-abortion slogans, outside the Melbourne Fertility Clinic, in February 2013. In 2014, she was convicted of displaying obscene images.

The presiding judge had found that the display of the “disgusting” images had not been a form of political communication, but communication directed at the people running the clinic and those attending as patients.

Fraser appealed the ruling as an infringement of the constitutionally implied right to free speech.

In dismissing the appeal, Justice Emerson noted that what is “obscene” or “disgusting” depends on the context: that images of aborted foetuses that might be shocking to the general public might be appropriate in a medical textbook or lecture.

She found that the law prohibiting the display of obscene images struck the balance between political communication and “the need to protect the public from unwitting and unwelcome exposure to images that are at the highest end of what is disgusting, repulsive, repugnant and offensive, having regard to contemporary standards”.

Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and now the Northern Territory have now all legislated to create protest-free buffer zones around abortion clinics. The bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW, introduced by Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi, contains a similar provision, as did the bill recently withdrawn from Queensland parliament by Rob Pyne. The Victorian law came into effect after the incident for which Fraser was convicted.

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