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New York v. Sanger

Comstock's Law

After the Civil War, more rigid American attitudes had led to the passage of the Comstock Act in 1873. The law classified contraceptive literature as obscene--illegal to mail through the U.S. Post Office. It stifled the dissemination of birth control information, even in newspaper ads. It also made it a misdemeanor for a person to sell, give away, advertise, or offer for sale, any instrument, article, drug, or medicine that would prevent contraception. It was even unlawful to give someone verbal information on contraception. Until this time, the nation's birthrates had been declining and the sale of contraception devices increasing.

Sanger wanted to flout the Comstock Act, so she launched her own monthly magazine, The Woman Rebel, publishing it from her dining room table. Because the words "birth control" appeared, and with it the promise to provide women with contraceptive advice, the U.S. Post Office refused to mail the magazine. Sanger could go to jail if she continued publication.

Still Sanger continued. Predictably, police arrested her in August of 1914. Indicted on four criminal counts carrying a maximum sentence of 45 years, she fled to Europe one day before her trial. The next year, she returned. Soon after her daughter, Peggy, died of pneumonia. In February of 1916, perhaps in response to a public sympathy for Sanger, prosecutor Harold Content dropped the charges.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940New York v. Sanger - Significance, Up From Poverty, Comstock's Law, Civilly Disobedient, The Door Is Opened