Supreme Court Abortion Case Shines Spotlight on 19th Century Chastity Law

Abortion Case

References to an old law by conservative justices during a recent Supreme Court session regarding abortion pills have resurfaced attention on the Comstock Act of the 19th century. Though not central to the case, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito’s comments highlighted the potential significance of this statute in the ongoing legal battle over abortion and its potential as an election issue.

Calls from the anti-abortion movement for enforcing the Comstock Act to prohibit mailing abortion medication have stirred debate within their ranks. While some see it as a means to restrict medication abortion, others dismiss this interpretation, leading to uncertainty among advocates.

Abortion rights supporters argue against an exaggerated reading of the law, cautioning against its misuse. Nevertheless, the interest shown by certain Supreme Court justices in the Comstock Act underscores its growing role in limiting abortion rights.

Comstock’s Relevance in the Current Legal Dispute Over Abortion Case

Enacted in 1873, the Comstock Act aimed to restrict the mailing of various “lewd” materials, including abortion drugs. While initially enforced, its significance waned with the advent of Roe v. Wade. However, recent arguments before the Supreme Court concerning the FDA’s regulations on mifepristone have seen the Comstock Act resurface, with anti-abortion plaintiffs invoking it to challenge the FDA’s actions. While some justices engaged with the law’s implications, the majority appeared inclined to dismiss the case on procedural grounds.

Attention now turns to the potential enforcement of the Comstock Act under future administrations, with implications for abortion access nationwide. While the Biden administration maintains that the law does not apply to lawful abortions, a reversal under a Republican administration could drastically impact abortion provision, raising concerns among advocates and legal experts. The political complexities surrounding this issue, including potential backlash and differing opinions within the anti-abortion movement, add layers to its significance in the ongoing legal and political landscape.