There’s Movement on a Comstock Act Repeal

Advocates press members of Congress in a new memo highlighting Comstock's threats.

Pro-choice protest with one protester dressed as Anthony Comstock holding a sign reading
We've said it before—Congressional Democrats need to introduce legislation to repeal the Comstock Act. Austen Risolvato/Rewire News Group

This piece first appeared in our weekly newsletter, The Fallout.

Finally! With the threat of a possible national abortion ban looming, some advocates are pushing Congress to repeal the Comstock Act. But is anyone listening?

As we first posted on social media, the groups Healthcare Across Borders, Take Back the Court Action Fund, and UltraViolet Action make a strong case for repeal, noting that it doesn’t matter if it’s this election cycle or the next: Republicans intend to use the Comstock Act to ban abortion nationwide—and to not take them at their word is political malpractice.

One of the most refreshing parts of the memo to Congress is how it so correctly ties the conservative legal movement’s anti-abortion campaign to an expanded campaign to regulate our bodies and sexuality more broadly. Noting that an aggressive read of the Comstock Act’s ban on materials deemed “indecent” or “immoral” could reach as far as contraception bans, HIV prevention, clean needle exchanges, and gender-affirming care, advocates press members of Congress to go on the offensive.

At the same time, advocates acknowledge that a repeal is not guaranteed given Congress’ current composition. But, like we’ve said before, introducing legislation now to start the repeal process also engages the public and can really get the word out about how close conservatives are to unleashing Comstock nationwide.

Look, I’m not naive enough to believe that a strongly worded memo to Congress is going to result in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s staff whipping up a repeal bill or even President Joe Biden finally saying the word “abortion,” for that matter. But we have to start somewhere.

Ignoring the Comstock threat or waiting for a more politically convenient time—whenever that may be—is only going to exacerbate our post-Dobbs human rights crisis.