Balint announces the Stop Comstock Act to repeal antiquated law

Could be Misused to Implement National Abortion Ban 

Vermont Business Magazine Today, Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vermont) is joined by Reps. Bush (MO-01), Escobar (TX-16), Scanlon (PA-05) and Watson Coleman (NJ-12) to announce the introduction of the Stop Comstock Act in response to clear Republican intent to misuse the antiquated and unconstitutional statute, the Comstock Act, to prohibit the mailing of medication abortion and other materials used in abortion procedures. The bill would repeal the portions of the Comstock Act that anti-choice extremists intend to misuse to enact a nationwide abortion ban. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn) introduced the Senate companion bill.

“Congressional Republicans and their allies in statehouses across the country are out of step with the American people – they will stop at nothing to enact extreme policies that put women’s lives at risk. We know Americans want the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies,” said Rep. Becca Balint. “It’s time we take immediate action to stop Republicans from abusing the Comstock Act to further erode our reproductive rights. I’m proud to stand alongside Senator Smith to introduce the Stop Comstock Act, which would take this outdated and unconstitutional law off the books.”

“The Comstock Act is a 150-year-old zombie law banning abortion that’s long been relegated to the dustbin of history. But extremist Republicans and Trump judges have seized upon the idea of misusing Comstock to bypass Congress and strip women nationwide of their reproductive freedoms. When MAGA Republicans say they intend to use the Comstock Act to control women’s decisions and enact a backdoor national abortion ban, we should believe them. Now that Trump has overturned Roe, a future Republican administration could try to misapply this 150-year-old Comstock law to deny American women their rights, even in states where abortion rights are protected by state law. This is why I’m introducing legislation to repeal Comstock. It is too dangerous to leave this law on the books; we cannot allow MAGA judges and politicians to control the lives of American women,” said Senator Smith.

“As a Black woman from the first state to ban abortion post-Dobbs and someone who has had abortions, I deeply and personally understand the critical need to protect and expand access to abortion care,” said Congresswoman Bush. “Anti-abortion extremists and the Republican party have shown they will stop at nothing when it comes to stripping away our reproductive freedoms. They aren't hiding their playbook: reviving the outdated and obsolete zombie statute, the Comstock Act, is the GOP’s latest hack to bypass Congress and impose a nationwide abortion ban. When people tell you who they are, believe them. I am proud to be working alongside my colleagues in introducing legislation to repeal the Comstock Act and protect access to abortion care."

“While access to contraception, IVF, and abortion are under attack across the country, U.S. Courts have found that the Comstock Act of 1873 does not ban the mailing of medicines used for lawful abortion — but that won't stop a Trump-controlled Department of Justice and other extremists from using it to effectively enact a nationwide abortion ban,” said Congresswoman Escobar. “I'm proud to co-lead the Stop Comstock Act to amend the Comstock Act to make clear that medical providers cannot be prosecuted for doing their jobs and providing basic healthcare.”

"Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, we have seen an explosion in court cases and legislation designed to ban abortion nationwide," said Rep. Scanlon, “including growing threats to willfully misapply and weaponize the Comstock Act, a relic of the Victorian era. I'm proud to join my colleagues in the House and Senate in introducing the Stop Comstock Act as part of our ongoing work to protect Americans’ right and freedom to choose medically safe reproductive health care, including medical abortion care.”

“The Supreme Court’s recent decision left the door open to future bans on medication abortion, even in states where reproductive healthcare is protected. It’s on Congress to shut that door,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “Medication abortion is safe and effective. Repealing portions of the Comstock Act of 1873 will help keep these safe and widely used medications available across the country. I’m so proud to co-lead this bill with Rep. Balint, the culmination of decades of work dating back to the efforts of the late Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey. It’s high time the GOP majority abandoned their obsession with stripping away people’s freedom to make their own medical decisions. I strongly encourage Congress to take up and pass this bill.”

The Comstock laws are a set of 1800s laws to ban the mailing or shipping of every obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, article, matter, thing or device, with the goal of restricting abortion, contraceptives, sex toys, and even love letters. Federal appellate courts have uniformly held that the law does not apply to lawful abortion care. Nonetheless, Republican strategists have been clear that they intend to misuse these antiquated and unconstitutional statutes to criminalize providers and impose a nationwide abortion ban.  

The Stop Comstock Act would repeal provisions of the Comstock laws in the U.S. Code that anti-abortion extremists want to willfully misapply in order to ban abortion nationwide without any congressional action.  

The bill is endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights, Physicians for Reproductive Health, National Women’s Law Center, and Reproductive Freedom for All. 

“Abortion opponents have made it clear: they’ll stop at nothing to ban abortion nationwide. As they’ve shown us, they want to control people’s bodies, lives, and futures, and they’re willing to misuse the Comstock laws to try to ban abortion entirely and restrict other health care — even though for decades, the courts, Congress, and the Department of Justice have made clear that position is wrong. Planned Parenthood Action Fund will continue to raise the alarm about efforts to ban abortion and restrict sexual and reproductive health care,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Action Fund. 

“Trumps’ advisors are quietly plotting to bypass Congress and misuse a 150-year-old law to attempt to ban abortion nationwide. They are arguing that the Comstock Act is a de facto national abortion ban already on the books, and they are wrong. The Department of Justice has made clear and federal appeals courts have uniformly held for almost a century that the Comstock Act does not apply to legal abortion care. But anti-abortion extremists have manipulated the law to ban abortion before, and there’s no reason to think they won’t try it again,” said Madison Roberts, senior policy counsel, ACLU. “We applaud Representative Balint for introducing the Stop Comstock Act to fight back against extremists’ threats to misapply Comstock as a nationwide abortion ban. We will continue to work with elected leaders to raise the alarm and neutralize this potential anti-abortion attack before Trump allies get the chance to launch it.”

“The Comstock Act has long been considered obsolete, but anti-abortion extremists are now threatening to use it to push for a national abortion ban.  While we would expect their efforts to be rejected by the courts, they could still sow chaos for abortion access nationwide,” said Katie O’Connor, Director of Federal Abortion Policy at the National Women’s Law Center.  “This law, a relic from the 19th century, was originally passed to enforce a specific view of morality rooted in racist, sexist, homophobic, and other discriminatory beliefs. It has no place in our modern laws, and we commend Senator Smith and Reps. Balint, Bush, Escobar, Watson Coleman and Scanlon for introducing legislation to prevent its misuse by anti-abortion extremists to ban abortion across the country.”

“MAGA Republicans have detailed their plans to block all abortion access—with or without the support of Congress and the courts—if they win power this November by enforcing a radical and baseless interpretation of the Comstock laws. Their Project 2025 provides a lengthy and destructive playbook that Trump could begin implementing on Day One of his administration. We’re grateful to Sen. Smith and Rep. Balint for their crucial work to ensure anti-abortion extremists’ dystopian vision never becomes a reality,” said Reproductive Freedom for All President and CEO Mini Timmaraju.

"The end goal of the anti-abortion movement has always been clear: they want to ban all abortion in the United States. Now, with Roe v. Wade overturned, they are promising to weaponize the Comstock Act – an outdated anti-sex statute from the 1800's -- to essentially ban abortion nationwide if they get a President who is willing. This backdoor ban on abortion could be forced through without the approval of Congress or the American public, who would never support a national ban. That may sound unthinkable to most people, but so did the overturning of Roe v. Wade. This potential misuse of the Comstock Act is a very real threat that we must take seriously,” said Rachana Desai Martin, CRR’s Chief Government and External Relations Officer.

“As we continue to feel and experience the devastating impact of abortion bans and restrictions across the country, this legislation is one important step to neutralizing increasingly dangerous and troubling attacks on care, including the potential threats of the Comstock Act. Comstock was an extreme law when it was written. It is not applicable to the current landscape and health care needs of our communities. Health care providers should not be at risk for criminalization for doing their jobs - providing essential medical care to those who need it. Our community deserves laws that reflects the lived experiences of people and families today, and that will always include access to full spectrum reproductive health care, like abortion care,” said Dr. Jamila Perritt, President & CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health.

Original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Blumenauer, DeLauro, Deluzio, DeSaulnier, Cohen, Connolly, Gottheimer, Huffman, Lieu, McCollum, Moulton, Pressley, Ramirez, Raskin, Smith, Stansbury, Sherrill, Ryan, R. Torres, Tlaib, Velázquez.

Summary of the bill can be found here.

Source: 6.20.2024. Washington, D.C – Rep. Becca Balint

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