Cori Bush calls for repeal of antiquated Comstock law amid rising anti-abortion tactics

With the U.S. Supreme Court's current review of mifepristone access—a drug fundamental to over 60% of abortions in the U.S.—the urgency of Bush's demand is palpable.

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Image Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.) took a definitive stand this Tuesday, advocating for the annulment of the Comstock Act, a relic from 1873, which has recently become a tool for anti-abortion activists in their quest to restrict reproductive rights. With the U.S. Supreme Court’s current review of mifepristone access—a drug fundamental to over 60% of abortions in the U.S.—the urgency of Bush’s demand is palpable.

Originally enacted to curb the dissemination of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material, the Comstock Act’s relevance had waned over the decades, narrowed by subsequent legal interpretations and societal evolution. Yet, its potential revival by conservative factions as a broad-spectrum ban on abortion services has sounded alarms among rights advocates.

“The Comstock Act must be repealed,” declared Bush, highlighting the statute’s misuse as a direct threat to abortion access. “Enacted in 1873, it is a zombie statute, a dead law that the far-right is trying to reanimate. The anti-abortion movement wants to weaponize the Comstock Act as a quick route to a nationwide medication abortion ban. Not on our watch.”

Bush’s call for repeal is noted as the first by a Congress member since the constitutional right to abortion was overturned last summer, marking a pivotal moment in the legislative discourse on reproductive rights.

The breadth of the Comstock Act, in its prohibition of mailing abortion-related “instruments, substances, drugs, medicines, or things,” casts a wide net that could encompass various aspects of abortion care, from medication to surgical supplies. Legal experts fear this could pave the way for a blanket ban on abortions, impacting even states where the procedure remains legal.

The Biden Administration contends that the Comstock Act does not extend to the mailing of abortion medications like mifepristone under specific conditions, aiming to narrow the law’s scope. However, this interpretation hasn’t stemmed the tide of references to the Comstock Act in legal arguments by conservative judges and advocacy groups, particularly post-Roe v. Wade’s reversal.

A significant moment came when Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, cited the Comstock Act in suspending the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, spotlighting the Act’s potential resurgence as a legal tool against abortion rights.

This ongoing legal battle reached the Supreme Court, where Justices Alito and Thomas inquired about the Comstock Act’s applicability to today’s mailing of abortion drugs, hinting at its potential revival in future rulings.

The implications of reinstating a Victorian-era law against abortion are vast and complex, sparking debates on the intersection of legal precedent, reproductive rights, and modern healthcare. With the potential for future administrations to enforce the Comstock Act more stringently, the fight over its repeal represents a critical juncture in the protection of abortion rights.

“We definitively have one lawmaker on board,” said Bush. “Who’s next?”

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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