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Comstock Law

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Excerpt from the Comstock Law

Reprinted from The Statutes at Large and Proclamations of the United States of America from March 1871 to March 1873, Vol. XVII. Edited by George P. Sanger

Published in 1873

Sexual morality has long played an important role in U.S. criminal justice history even as many other Western countries have decreased emphasis on these kinds of moral offenses. Sexual crimes are those activities that the local community finds offensive. During the late 1870s a national campaign was mounted to legislate public morality. As new advances in birth control were made through the nineteenth century, interest steadily grew. By the 1870s a wide variety of birth control methods were readily available in pharmacies throughout the nation.

"That no obscene . . . pamphlet, picture, paper, print, or other publication of an indecent character . . . may be written or printed."

Abortion, too, remained free of legal restriction in many areas. The easy public access to birth control information and devices attracted the opposition of Anthony Comstock (1844–1915) and others. Believing access to birth control promoted greater sexual activity outside of marriage, they lobbied Congress to pass a bill prohibiting the mailing of birth control information and devices as well as abortion information through the U.S. mail. They also hoped to prohibit the shipment of birth control items from state to state.

Anthony Comstock (1844–1915). Comstock authored a 1868 comprehensive law in New York State that prohibited the distribution of birth control devices and obscene and immoral literature and photographs. (The Library of Congress)

For More Information


Hardin, G. J. The Margaret Sanger Story and the Fight for Birth Control. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975.

McCann, Carole R. Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916–1945. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Tone, Andrea. Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.

Web Sites

"Abortion Is Pro-life." Capitalism Magazine. http://www.abortionisprolife.com (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. http://www.planned parenthood.org (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law