Merkley Champions Legislation to Repeal the Comstock Act

The Skanner

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley joined a bill led by U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) to repeal an arcane 1873 law, called the Comstock Act, that Republicans and anti-choice extremists want to misuse to ban medication abortion nationwide. Comstock has been cited recently by U.S. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in oral arguments during the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA and invoked in Project 2025 – broadly seen as a roadmap for a possible future Trump administration – as a way for an extremist, anti-choice administration to use unilateral executive action to effectively ban abortion nationwide. 

“When MAGA extremists on the Supreme Court overturned Roe two years ago, they gutted access to abortion care, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. They’ve shown they are more than interested in allowing the misuse of the 150-year-old, wildly outdated Comstock Act to effectively ban medication abortion across the nation, even in states like Oregon where it’s protected by state law,” Merkley said. “I joined Senator Tina Smith and several other colleagues in supporting the Stop Comstock Act—a bill that takes on MAGA Republicans’ dangerous, unpopular crusade to control people’s bodies by getting Comstock language off the books to ensure the archaic law does not become a catalyst for a backdoor national abortion ban.”

The Comstock laws are a set of 1800s laws meant to ban the mailing or shipping of every obscene, lewd, indecent, article, matter, thing, or device, with the goal of restricting abortion, contraceptives, and even love letters. A future administration hostile to sexual and reproductive health care will willfully misapply these vague laws to impose a ban on medication abortion nationwide, even without any Congressional action.

The Stop Comstock Act would repeal language in the Comstock Laws that could be used by an anti-abortion administration to ban the mailing of mifepristone and other drugs used in medication abortions, instruments and equipment used in abortions, and educational material related to sexual health. Medication abortion is how nearly 60% of abortions take place in this country today. It is the most common form of abortion in the United States.

In addition to Merkley and Smith, the bill is further championed in the Senate by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), John Fetterman (D-PA), Cory Booker, (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Laphonza Butler (D-CA), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Read a summary of the bill here.