Have you heard of the Comstock Act?

If you haven’t you have a lot of company.

But you are going to hear about it. And you better know what it is.

The act’s namesake, Anthony Comstock, was a deeply religious Civil War veteran turned anti-vice crusader from New York who was obsessed with combating what he saw as a culture of sexual impurity. He successfully pushed Congress to restrict materials he saw as immoral, arguing that allowing them to be distributed through the mail corrupted the public and posed a danger to children.

The Comstock Act of 1873 made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd or lascivious,” “immoral,” or “indecent” publications through the mail. The law also made it a misdemeanor for anyone to sell, give away, or possess an obscene book, pamphlet, picture, drawing, or advertisement.

As the legal battle over abortion pills winds through the federal courts, anti-abortion activists are citing a 150-year-old law, the Comstock Act of 1873, to bolster their case.

For most of the past century, that law has rarely if ever been enforced, with many of its anti-vice provisions narrowed by federal courts or considered to be vastly out of date. But with the overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision, opponents of abortion rights have begun invoking it as a legal basis for blocking the mailing of abortion medication, which could have sweeping implications for abortion access across the country.

Among other things, the Comstock Act prohibits the mailing of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials, like pornography, or any article or thing “intended for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion.” It also prohibits shipping those things by way of express common carriers, meaning services like FedEx or UPS.


Millions of women do not realize the danger that is just around the corner. The Comstock Act was never eliminated as law, it was just ignored. Now that Roe is gone, the Comstock Act will be invoked by Republicans to end the mailed distribution of contraceptives and medical abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol to women and girls in our country if they have the power to do that.

Republicans have been floundering when it comes to the way they want to portray themselves in their fight against reproductive freedom. They thought right leaning religious women who vote Republican most of the time would be on board with 6 week bans. They have been learning otherwise.

Glenn Youngkin, governor of Virginia, ran into this buzz saw in the last election in Virginia. He thought he had the magic ticket to success with a 15 week ban. But Democrats, Independents and Republican voters rejected that idea and the result was that the Virginia GOP lost control of the House of Delegates and Senate in their state. Virginians voted in unexpectedly large numbers to install Democrats in the House and Senate who would protect their right to abortion.

When you ask Republican women how they think about abortion, here is what they say: they don’t like it, but they also don’t like being told what to do with their own bodies. They understand that things can happen when you get pregnant. You can run into trouble. Almost every woman knows someone who has run into a problem with a pregnancy or has experienced a problem pregnancy herself. You might need to get an abortion to save your life or to abort fetus that cannot survive or manage some other problem you didn’t anticipate. That’s just the reality. It’s not that you want to get an abortion. It’s that you might have to.  Women understand the problem with a hard and fast rule when it comes to reproductive rights. (The Bulwark, Sarah Longwell Focus Groups)

Roe v Wade Standard is What Women Want

Many women, including Republican women, were just fine with Roe v Wade’s trimester system with the first trimester abortion available for any reason or purpose and up to the woman, the second trimester somewhat more restricted but still up to the woman, and the third trimester the one where the government had more of an interest in regulating within reason. Even some very right leaning, religious women think that at about the time of “quickening” or viability- which is about 22 to 24 weeks is the time when they might agree that a woman should try to carry through with a pregnancy unless there is a pressing reason not to.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decided that the right to privacy implied in the 14th Amendment protected abortion as a fundamental right. However, the government retained the power to regulate or restrict abortion access depending on the stage of pregnancy. And after fetal viability, outright bans on abortion were permitted if they contained exceptions to preserve life and health. (Brennan Center)

If Republicans want to enhance their electability in a post-Roe era, they should support a return to the standards set by Roe v Wade at a bare minimum in every state.

Republicans haven’t figured this out yet. They are currently maintaining a much harder, fiercer, punitive line,  by insisting on abortion bans at 6 weeks or 15 weeks. This means many women and girls will be pregnant but not aware of it and consequently too late for an abortion in too many states. To be forced to go through a pregnancy against your will and give birth to a baby you don’t want is inherently cruel. It is a form of punishment. The unwanted child will be born to a mother whose life was damaged by being forced to do this against her will and whose economic prospects are limited by the forced birth. Even if you think that adoption is the solution, you should think again. Just being forced to go through a pregnancy is life threatening for some women. I worked in adoptions. The adopted child always wonders why he or she was abandoned by his or her mother. Forced birth is a set up for emotional trauma.

Women get it. Government has no business making decisions for women when it comes to these intensely personal, emotional, physical decisions. How can it be that our medical information is so intensely private that no one can see it but ourselves and our doctors but that when it comes to having a baby the government has the right to tell us what to do, even force us to carry to term even if it might cause us to die, to go bankrupt, or to bear a child who will be unloved, or resented or be unable to survive. That’s why these abortion bans are making women so furious. It’s government interference in your life writ large. As long as the GOP keeps trying to take this freedom, this right, away from women, they will lose elections they could have won, even in red states.


Republicans are not done trying to restrict women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. Next, they plan to prevent us from having access to contraceptives and abortion pills. In other words, they plan to criminalize even trying to plan your pregnancy so that you can navigate your life.

“Abortion pill” is the common name for using two different medicines to end a pregnancy: mifepristone and misoprostol. You can also use misoprostol alone. (Planned Parenthood)

These pills work very well especially in the early stages of pregnancy without the need to see a doctor or other professional. For this reason too many American women don’t see what is coming from the GOP, or from Trump if he wins the presidential election in 2024.

The GOP will use the Comstock Act to prevent birth control contraceptives and morning after pills as well as the “abortion pill” from being sent through the mail. That act will be criminalized. Birth control pills and inserted birth control devices will be criminalized too if the right-wing gains political power.


Around the world, political scientists noted, authoritarian, or authoritarian-friendly, leaders often set their sights on annihilating reproductive rights, including access to abortion.

For example, the right-wing government in Hungary, which is led by autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban, last week announced it is tightening its once-liberal abortion laws. Pregnant people in Hungary will now be forced to observe fetal vital signs before accessing an abortion. Orban, who is known for his attacks on immigration and LGBTQ+ rights, recently joined Dixon and Trump at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas.

“We don’t necessarily always include reproductive freedom in that package of democracy,” Anu Kumar, the head of Ipas, a global nonprofit that supports abortion access, told the news publication Foreign Policy. “But we should, because this is a place where authoritarian regimes often go, if not first, then pretty quickly afterward.”

This trend towards authoritarianism, Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in West Michigan who serves as the executive director of the Committee to Protect Health Care said, leaves the country in a deeply dangerous place, both politically and healthwise.

Reproductive rights are human rights and when people elected to power are authoritarian leaders or support those leaders, women’s rights get eroded and eviscerated over time. The answer? We can and must fight back by refusing to vote for extremists up and down the ballot.