Saturday, July 10, 2010

Comstock Act

The Comstock Act, was a United States federal law was enacted March 3, 1873. It amended the Post Office Act and made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious" materials through the mail, including contraceptive devices and information. In addition to banning contraceptives, this act also banned the distribution of information on abortion for educational purposes. Twenty-four states passed similar prohibitions on materials distributed within the states. Collectively, these state and federal restrictions are known as the Comstock laws.

The law was named after its chief proponent, the anti-obscenity crusader Anthony Comstock. The enforcement of the Act was, in its early days, often conducted by Comstock himself or through his New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

The Comstock Act not only targeted pornography as such, but also all contraceptive equipment and many educational documents such as descriptions of contraceptive methods and other reproductive health-related materials. The ban on contraceptives was declared unconstitutional by the courts in 1936, though the remaining portions of the law continue to be enforced today. The current law on obscenity is expressed in the Miller test.

In 1915, architect William Sanger was charged under the New York law against disseminating contraceptive information. In 1918, his wife Margaret Sanger was similarly charged. On appeal, her conviction was reversed on the grounds that contraceptive devices could legally be promoted for the cure and prevention of disease. The prohibition of devices advertised for the explicit purpose of birth control was not overturned for another eighteen years. During World War I, U.S. Servicemen were the only members of the Allied forces sent overseas without condoms which led to more widespread STDs among U.S. troops.

In 1957, Samuel Roth, who ran a literary business in New York City, was charged with distributing "obscene, lewd, lascivious or filthy" materials through the mail, advertising and selling a publication called American Aphrodite ("A Quarterly for the Fancy-Free"). The publication contained literary erotica and nude photography. In this case, Comstock was upheld and refined in Roth v. U.S.

In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut struck down one of the remaining contraception Comstock laws in Connecticut and Massachusetts. However, Griswold only applied to marital relationships. Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) extended its holding to unmarried persons as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment