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Congress Urged to Repeal Comstock Act Threatening Reproductive Rights and Public Health

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In a joint letter addressed to Congress, Healthcare Across Borders, Take Back the Court Action Fund, and UltraViolet Action called out the resurgence of the Comstock Act, urging immediate action to repeal this century-old law that threatens reproductive rights and public health in the US.

In a joint letter addressed to Congress, Healthcare Across Borders, Take Back the Court Action Fund, and UltraViolet Action called out the resurgence of the Comstock Act, urging immediate action to repeal this century-old law that threatens reproductive rights and public health in the US.1

Bottom up inside box | Image Credit: ChayTee - stock.adobe.com

The Comstock Act, enacted as an "antiobscenity" law, prohibits the use of postal services for transporting materials related to abortion or deemed "indecent" or "immoral" | Image Credit: ChayTee - stock.adobe.com

Since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022, a wave of restrictive abortion bans has swept the nation. Fourteen states have enacted total abortion bans, 3 states have implemented 6-week bans, and several others have imposed more limited restrictions. The consequences have been dire, according to the letter, with rising rates of pregnancy-related deaths and illnesses, individuals being denied emergency care, and the reality of being forced to carry unintended or untenable pregnancies.

The Comstock Act, enacted in 1873 as an "antiobscenity" law, prohibits the use of postal services for transporting materials related to abortion or deemed "indecent" or "immoral," the letter explained. Although its abortion provisions have not been enforced by the federal government since the early 1930s, the law remains a latent threat.

Interpreting the vague language of the Comstock Act could extend beyond abortion, potentially impacting access to contraception, HIV prevention, gender-affirming care, and other critical medical interventions, the letter warned. This expansive application could have bold implications for public health and fundamental rights, it continued.

“As long as Congress keeps Comstock on the books, right-wing extremists will continue to have a powerful tool at their disposal to control our lives,” Nicole Regalado, vice president of campaigns at UltraViolet, said in the letter. “Women are sick and tired of politicians and judges deciding how and when we choose to start a family. Women and our trans siblings are sick and tired of judges and politicians trying to erase us from the history books and public life. We're not going anywhere, and we won't stop fighting until Congress repeals this 151-year-old law.”

Medical research has extensively supported the safety and efficacy of dispensing mifepristone and misoprostol via postal service, with the latest data coming out just this week.2

“The cohort study, conducted across clinics in 7 states, found that mail order dispensing of mifepristone and misoprostol resulted in successful abortion for most participants, with low rates of serious adverse events,” The American Journal of Managed Care® reported. “The findings support the FDA's decision to remove the requirement for in-person dispensing of mifepristone, potentially expanding access to medication abortion services, particularly for primary care providers.”

The letter goes on to outline the nature of this crisis, attributing it to a lack of proactive measures to safeguard abortion rights beyond reliance on Roe v Wade.1 The urgency for congressional action is further emphasized, with advocates calling for the immediate repeal of the Comstock Act to prevent its "weaponization" by future administrations. Momentum for repeal is said to be growing, with legal scholars, editorial boards, and elected officials voicing support for this crucial step.

“If Congress doesn’t act swiftly to repeal the Comstock Act, it may as well roll out the red carpet for the next right-wing administration to distort and weaponize it against all of us,” Sarah Lipton-Lubet, president of Take Back the Court Action Fund, said in the letter. “...If you’re a lawmaker who cares about reproductive freedom, repealing Comstock is your only sensible next step forward.”

The letter portrayed repealing the Comstock Act as not just a matter of reproductive freedom but also a vital safeguard for public health and fundamental rights in the face of persistent threats from politicians. The conclusion called for Congress to lead the charge in ensuring the elimination of this legislation.

“There is no time for further complacency,” Jodi Jacobson, executive director of Healthcare Across Borders, said in the letter. “The right continues to agitate for a complete national abortion ban, and they may soon be able to achieve their goal without a single vote in Congress. It’s time to go on the offense and shape the future we want to see.”

References

1. Memo: leading reproductive rights & court reform advocates implore Congress to repeal Comstock Act immediately. News release. Take Back the Court Action Fund. May 14, 2024. Accessed May 15, 2024. https://www.takebackthecourt.today/press-release-advocates-implore-congress-to-repeal-comstock-act-immediately

2. AJMC staff. What we’re reading: reimbursement rate disparities; recipient of pig kidney dies; mail order abortion pills safe, effective. AJMC. May 14, 2024. Accessed May 15, 2024. https://www.ajmc.com/view/what-we-re-reading-hospitals-charge-insurers-more-than-medicare-rates-recipient-of-pig-kidney-transplant-dies-mail-ordered-abortion-pills-deemed-safe-effective

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