Monday, April 22, 2024

NIXING THE ABORTION PILL: America's top prig wins posthumous victory

A long-comatose 1873 "anti-vice" law, inspired by Anthony Comstock, the nation's most notorious blue nose, is now the basis of a federal court ruling in support of cutting off citizen access to mail-order mifepristone. The pill used in more than half of the nation's abortions. Although the Supreme Court just ruled that the groups that successfully challenged access to the drug in a lower court did not have standing to sue, the Court's reasoning still allows future mifepristone access challenges.

So who is Anthony Comstock? As the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which grew to nation-wide scope, he was to become America's top prig. His chief aim was to block access to any and all information and or devices for birth control and/or abortion. Moreover, he and his zealous followers also campaigned to stamp out “obscene” books, “dirty” pictures, sex toys and anything else thought to inflame the nation's genitalia.

Comstock's modus operandi was brazen. He and his anti-vice crusaders conducted patently illegal vigilante raids on retailers. Storming into targeted stores, they brazenly "confiscated" and handed over to police: “bad books” and “articles made of rubber for immoral purposes and used by both sexes.” Then, emboldened by the popularity of this extra-legal campaign, Comstock launched a national movement to criminalize sex education of any kind, as well as sex toys, racy illustrations and “bad books.”

His campaign was highly successful. Sensing electoral opportunity, politicians of every kind quickly gained enthusiasm for banning "smut." In fact in 1873, largely in response to Comstock's crusade, Congress passed, without debate mind you, the "Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use." This "Comstock Act" outlawed all forms of sex education, particularly as it pertained to preventing or interrupting conception, as "obscene." One is reminded of the following: "Everybody likes to see somebody else caught for the vices practiced by themselves." Marya Mannas, More in Anger (1958

Here is an excerpt from this statute: "Whoever … shall sell, or lend, or give away, or in any manner exhibit … or shall otherwise publish … or shall have in his possession, any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing or other representation, … or instrument … of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article whatever, for the prevention of conception, or for causing unlawful abortion, or shall advertise the same for sale, … shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, he shall be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary for not less than six months nor more than five years for each offense, or fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, with costs of court." (That's not less than $2,200 and not more than $58,000 in today's dollars.)

Propitiously this prohibition against mailing such stuff created a government job for Comstock. He was appointed "special agent" of the US Post Office and given exclusive enforcement powers. He held this position — in essence, as America’s sexual morality czar — for the next 42 years! In this capacity Comstock enthusiastically prosecuted anyone caught sending information about birth control, or committing any other of a long list of "sexual offenses” via the mail. ) 

Was the law actually enforced? Upon retirement Comstock boasted that he had victoriously brought charges against more than 3,600 defendants and destroyed 160 tons of "sexual materials" including tons of  information about birth control. Under Comstock the postal service sometimes even forbade the mailing of anatomy books to medical students.    

Comstock's blue-nosing caused all sorts of mischief and provoked at least one notorious suicide. Feminist Ida Craddock killed herself rather than be imprisoned for sending sex education information via the mail. Her suicide note reads, in part, “I am taking my life because a judge, at the instigation of Anthony Comstock, has declared me guilty of a crime I did not commit -- the circulation of obscene literature. Perhaps it may be that in my death, more than in my life, the American people may be shocked into investigating the dreadful state of affairs which permits that unctuous sexual hypocrite Anthony Comstock to wax fat and arrogant and to trample upon the liberties of the people, invading, in my own case, both my right to freedom of religion and to freedom of the press." 

As a consequence of Comstock's puritanism, hundreds of "offenders" found themselves in federal prison. And, somewhat amazingly, this mischief is not yet over. The Taliban style "Comstock Act" has recently risen from the dead to be applied by a Trump appointed Texas federal district court judge. He cited it in banning mail order mifepristone.  This despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has approved mail-order dispensation of this highly effective abortion aid.


 To further examine these and similar issues, see dozens of articles at


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