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Washington Roundup: Senate Democrats target Comstock Act; archbishop condemns political violence

The dome of the U.S. Capitol building is seen on a rainy day Sept. 26, 2023. (OSV News photo/Leah Millis, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — In Washington, a group of Senate Democrats introduced legislation seeking to repeal a provision in a 150-year-old law that that they say could be used to restrict abortion pills.

Meanwhile, a prominent U.S. archbishop issued a statement condemning political violence as polls show a growing number of Americans are concerned about such instances.

— Senate Democrats target Comstock Act provision they say could lead to ban on abortion pills —

The Comstock Act of 1873 bans lewd materials, including contraceptives and abortifacients, from being sent through the mail, although it has not been enforced in recent decades. Some have suggested that the law, still on the books, could be used to ban abortion pills even in states that permit their use.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., who introduced legislation to repeal that provision of that law, said in a statement, “The Comstock Act is a 150-year-old zombie law banning abortion that’s long been relegated to the dustbin of history.”

Citing reports that a possible second Trump administration may seek to use the Comstock Act to restrict the distribution of abortion pills, Smith argued, “Extremist Republicans and Trump judges have seized upon the idea of misusing Comstock to bypass Congress and strip women nationwide of their reproductive freedoms.”

“When MAGA Republicans say they intend to use the Comstock Act to control women’s decisions and enact a backdoor national abortion ban, we should believe them. Now that Trump has overturned Roe, a future Republican administration could try to misapply this 150-year-old Comstock law to deny American women their rights, even in states where abortion rights are protected by state law,” she said June 20.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, called The Stop Comstock Act “the worst kind of political payback given the risks of Online, No Test distribution of Chemical Abortion Pills to women and to the environment.”

“Women are exposed to injury, infertility, and death without the kinds of screenings like an ultrasound or blood type evaluation and treatment,” Hawkins added in her June 21 statement.

Project 2025, drafted by the Heritage Foundation and other abortion opponents, says that “the Department of Justice “in the next conservative Administration” should announce its intent to enforce Comstock “against providers and distributors of such pills.”

It was not immediately clear what, if any, path forward Smith’s legislation had to passage by Congress. The House is currently under slim GOP control, while the legislation would likely lack the 60 votes it would need to overcome the upper chamber’s filibuster rule.

The Washington Post reported that Smith’s office consulted the Justice Department in drafting the legislation to preserve aspects of the law that allow law enforcement to crack down on child pornography.

The Catholic Church teaches that all human life is sacred from conception to natural death, opposing direct abortion as an act of violence that takes the life of the unborn child.

After the Dobbs decision, church officials in the United States have reiterated the church’s concern for both mother and child, and called to strengthen available support for those living in poverty or other causes that can push women toward having an abortion.

— Archbishop condemns political violence —

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia issued a statement June 18 condemning political violence.

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that two out of three Americans said they are concerned that political violence could follow the Nov. 5 election between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

In his statement, Archbishop Gudziak said, in “the best moments of American politics, people with very diverse viewpoints have found a way to unity, justice, peace, and ultimately, the common good.”

“That is the ideal to which good politics aspires,” said Archbishop Gudziak, who issued the statement as chairman of the Committee for Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said. “However, more and more it has become abundantly clear that violent behavior — both physical and verbal — is now seen by many as an acceptable means for carrying out political or ideological disputes. Political speech is often full of insults, fear, anger, and anxiety. Sadly, racism, religious discrimination, and xenophobia are on the rise. People in public office are receiving more death threats than ever before, some of which turn into physical attacks. About half of Americans expect there will be violence in response to future presidential elections results.”

“America can do so much better,” Archbishop Gudziak added. “There is no good reason to resort to violence to resolve political issues. To start, there are countless non-violent and effective alternatives. Dialogue and voting better serve our human dignity, as do peaceful protests, petitions, lawsuits, and civil disobedience in the face of injustice. By contrast, violence harms innocent victims. Violence undermines order and the rule of law. Practically speaking, political violence does not ensure positive or lasting change.”

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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