The 150-Year-Old Chastity Law Resurfaces in Light Of Roe v. Wade Overturning
By: Khushi Bhatt
A 150-year-old ‘chastity law’, the Comstock Act, may be the next big fight over reproductive rights in the United States. The law, which dates back to 1871, makes it illegal to mail contraceptive materials, or medications and materials that can be used to induce abortions. The act was passed in 1873 as part of a broader effort to regulate the morality of American citizens. However, by the 1930’s, the law was viewed as archaic and prosecutions related to the law ceased.
The reversal of Roe v. Wade in 2022 sparked a new debate about the role of the ‘chastity law’ in this post-Roe world. Some argue conservatives will be using the act to try to ban medical abortions, which is how the majority of abortions are performed in the United States. Greer Donley, a University of Pittsburgh Law School professor who specializes in abortion law, claims the law may be, “the backdoor way to remove access to abortion across the whole country”.
Opponents of the law point out that it shouldn’t be quoted in the abortion argument, because it was passed in a time when women couldn’t vote, and discrimination on the basis of sex was still legal. They also argue that the law unfairly targets low-income individuals, who may not have the resources to travel to other states to receive abortions.
The effect this law’s existence will have on abortion rights cannot yet be determined, but it is clear that the conservative party will at least try to use this archaic law to promote their agenda of restricting access to safe abortions nationwide.