Many who oppose abortion would agree that it is “disgusting, repulsive, repugnant and offensive having regard to contemporary standards.”
Yet those are not my words. They are lifted from last week's decision by the Victorian Supreme Court in Fraser v County Court of Victoria.
But before anybody rejoices at this clear-minded acknowledgement that abortion is obscene, it’s not what you think it is.
The Court did not use those words to condemn the practice of abortion. Rather, the case determined that the images are “obscene” and therefore banned from public places which includes everywhere from the sidewalk or the steps of parliament, to a library or university.
I certainly thought of similar words when someone showed me images of dead foetuses being displayed as part of pro-life demonstrations in the USA. They were truly chilling. Not merely in the sense of causing shock or offence, but real grief.
Make no mistake, these were dead babies. Human beings made in God’s image and for His glory, now mauled, butchered, murdered.
There is so much to consider in the abortion debate because it really is an intersection of all kinds of brokenness. There are the harsh moral realities of destructive sexual behaviours, the murder of innocents, and violence. There are also aspects that stoke a compassionate response – like the knowledge that abortion often occurs in the context of domestic abuse, poverty or coercion. Sidewalk counsellors I’ve spoken to encounter women who are distressed, afraid and despairing.
But the raw shock of seeing what actually, really, truly goes on behind the bland walls of an abortion clinic shows up the fruits of this melting pot of brokenness more powerfully than anything else could.
It’s the largely unknown truth and it needs to be told.
Small wonder that, all over the world, the pro-life movement has relied on this truth about abortion to win hearts and minds.
But not in Victoria anymore, it seems.
The Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court ruling that images of dead foetuses cannot be displayed in public because they are too disgusting and “may be so distressing as to be potentially harmful.”
The images are therefore banned under the criminal law for being “obscene.”
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!
The Human Rights Law Alliance arranged legal representation for Michelle Fraser, a pro-life woman who had been charged by police with “displaying an obscene figure in a public place.” Her crime was to stand near a footpath holding an A4-sized photograph of a dead foetus bearing the slogan, “This is your choice.”
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.
Sometimes the raw truth is the strongest political communication we can make, regardless of how shocking it is. Indeed, often it is in the very act of exposing horror that action is precipitated.
A young boy holding up the severed head of a Syrian soldier brought the evil of ISIS to the world. It adorned newspaper front-pages and prime time news bulletins across the nation.
A drowned toddler on a Turkish beach shocked us to our senses concerning the refugee crisis in Europe. Pressure to act rippled across the world.
The now famous image of a naked Vietnamese girl running down a road, severely burned by a napalm attack, was instrumental in changing minds about the nature of our involvement in the Vietnam war.
Even cigarette packets aim to shock us for good reason.
How can we expose the most unspeakable of practices if the truth of it cannot be publicly communicated?
Much is at stake for pro-life free speech and for truth.
Lawyers are currently examining appeal options.