Comstock Act

Updated: DECEMBER 19, 2016

The Comstock Act was passed by Congress in 1873. Its stated purpose was "Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use." The Comstock Act made it illegal to use the U.S. Postal Service to send sex related material including, but not limited to, birth control, sex toys, erotica, abortifacients, letters that discussed sexual matters, and any information about the things on the preceding list.

The Comstock Act involved a very broad interpretation of what can be considered "obscene." It remained in place until 1957, with local governments keeping their own applications of the law in place for an additional eight years.

More About Comstock Act

The Comstock Act was championed by Anthony Comstock after he blamed the death of a close friend on him having been "led astray and diseased" by obscene materials. After the act was passed, Comstock devoted his life to actively enforcing the law and punishing anyone connected to materials that fit his (broad and vague) definition of obscene.

The Comstock Act had a tremendous negative impact on sex education, contraception, and abortion accessibility.


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