Skip To Content

    An Image Of A Dead Fetus Was Ruled Too Obscene For Public Display

    An anti-abortion protester has lost an appeal of her conviction over the image.

    Anti-abortion protester Michelle Fraser was arrested outside East Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic in 2013 for holding up images of dead fetuses.

    Light Up The Darkness/Michelle Fraser / Via

    One photo showed the head of a fetus on top of a $1 coin with the text ‘blood money’; the other showed a fetus next to part of a human finger with the text ‘This is your choice’.

    Fraser was charged with "displaying an obscene figure in a public place", convicted in 2014 and fined $600.

    "I am happy to go to court for the babies, to stand in the gap and have the law keepers give their judgements," she told religious blog Light Up The Darkness.

    Fraser lost her first appeal to the County Court of Victoria where Justice Paul Lacava found the pictures were "obscene because they might properly be described as disgusting" in 2015.

    Fraser then appealed to the state's Supreme Court which ruled against her and upheld the conviction on March 21.

    Light Up The Darkness/Michelle Fraser / Via

    "They are images which, according to accepted community standards, are of such horror or such a disgusting nature that people ought not to be unwittingly exposed to them while going about their everyday business, or be obliged to take steps to avoid them," Supreme Court judge Karin Emerton said in her judgement.

    "The maintenance of ‘good public order’ in relation to the display of obscene figures in public places includes the protection of members of the public, including (especially) children, from exposure to images that may be so distressing as to be potentially harmful to them."

    Fraser's lawyers argued the prohibition of the display of obscene figures contradicted freedom of political communication but the judge disagreed.

    Fraser was represented by Human Rights Law Alliance - a team of Christian lawyers backed by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) formed to protect "religious freedom and fundamental rights in the courts of Australia".

    The alliance also represented Victorian mother of 13 Kathy Clubb who last August became the first person to be arrested in Victoria under safe access zone laws that make it illegal to protest within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.

    Kathy Clubb/Instagram

    In a blog entry on the ACL's website the alliance's managing director and Fraser's lawyer Martin Iles expressed his vehement opposition to the quashing his client's appeal and said the case proved "much was at stake for pro-life free speech and for truth".

    "Lawyers for Michelle argued that the images could not be banned because they constituted communication between voters concerning political matters, which is constitutionally protected in Australia," he wrote.

    Iles compared Fraser's placards to other "political" images which prompted social change including the picture of Islamic State terrorist Khaled Sharrouf's son holding a severed head of a Syrian soldier; the photo of drowned refugee toddler Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach; and the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Phan Thị Kim Phúc OOnt, a severely burned naked child whose village had just suffered a Napalm attack during the Vietnam War in 1972.

    "One might have sympathy if the decision was limited in scope to say, banning the images from school zones or shopping centres. But 'public place' is defined so broadly that it includes much of the state of Victoria – even a church service!"

    He was examining appeal options.

    Gina Rushton is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Gina Rushton at

    Got a confidential tip? Submit it here