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Friday, 26 October 2012

image for Comstockery: Yesterday and Today Comstockery: Condoms are obscene, lewd, and lascivious.

Did you know that in World War I, the United States was the only country that did not distribute condoms to its soldiers? As a result, rates of sexually transmitted diseases were higher among American troops, as was the incidence of them being fathers of (often unwanted) babies. Our allies thought we were silly and prudish, calling such policies "Comstockery." The term was later used to more generically refer to counterproductive American social policies.

Anthony Comstock was a United States Postal Inspector, part time preacher, and full time politician dedicated to the ideals of Victorian morality. Punitive state and federal laws created to codify that vision of morality for all of society are named after him. At the height of his power and popularity he boasted of prosecuting thousands who dared to violate his namesake laws.

In the late 1800s, social conservatives embraced and enacted "Comstock Laws" to prohibit mailing or importing condoms and diaphragms, as well as the sale or mailing of any book or material regarding any form of birth control. These laws defined such information as "obscene, lewd, and lascivious." Along the way to getting those laws overturned, several people spent time in jail for violating them. This was Comstockery at its finest hour.

What would later become "The Pill" was approved by the FDA in the late 1950s for the treatment of menstrual disorders only. This restriction was at the insistence of social conservative groups that were completely opposed to birth control, not just for themselves, but for the entire country; More Comstockery.

In 1960, "The Pill" was approved by the FDA for the purposes of birth control, and social conservatives strongly lobbied for and passed laws that restricted the pill to married women only, and only if they had written permission from their husband. The last of those laws was overturned in 1965 by the Supreme Court in Griswald v. Connecticut, where it ruled that the private use of birth control pills was a right protected by the Constitution. Despite that ruling, several states in the Bible Belt attempted to restrict availability of the pill by passing laws that pulled an end-run around that ruling. The last of these laws was repealed or overturned by 1970. The sexual revolution was in full swing. Comstockery suffered a serious defeat, but arrogantly refused to surrender.

Fast forward to today and we find Texas and other southern states stubbornly insisting on Abstinence Only sex-ed in public schools. These states lead the nation in rates of teen pregnancy, STDs, abortions, and the incidence of multiple births prior to age 21. The motivations for those nonsensical, irrational, and counterproductive policies are the same as those used to justify the morality laws of the Victorian age. Comstockery thrives again.

In the current election cycle, Comstockery again raises its archaic, not-yet-dead head in the form of social conservative politicians who have made women's reproductive rights a centerpiece of their authoritarian social agenda. In addition to the ridiculous notion that "religious freedom" entitles one to dictate the terms of another person's health insurance policy, prominent republican politicians are now making utter fools of themselves as they "define rape" as a part of their latest efforts to restrict, or even outlaw emergency contraception. They say that conception as a result of rape is an "act of God."

I say that they are practicing Comstockery.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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