Rep. Cori Bush

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) attends a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on May 8, 2024.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Cori Bush Leads Charge to Defang 'Zombie' Anti-Abortion Law Eyed by Trump Allies

"Anti-abortion extremists and the Republican Party have shown they will stop at nothing when it comes to stripping away our reproductive freedoms," the Missouri Democrat said of the GOP's reliance on the arcane Comstock Act.

A group of congressional Democrats led by progressive Rep. Cori Bush introduced legislation Thursday that would repeal elements of the 151-year-old law known as the Comstock Act as allies of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump plot to use the statute to enact a federal abortion ban without congressional approval.

Bush (D-Mo.) was the first lawmaker to call for the repeal of the Comstock Act in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The new bill, titled the Stop Comstock Act, was introduced with over two dozen backers in the House and at least 19 in the Senate, where Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) put forth companion legislation.

"As a Black woman from the first state to ban abortion post-Dobbs and someone who has had abortions, I deeply and personally understand the critical need to protect and expand access to abortion care," Bush said in a statement. "Anti-abortion extremists and the Republican Party have shown they will stop at nothing when it comes to stripping away our reproductive freedoms."

"They aren't hiding their playbook: Reviving the outdated and obsolete zombie statute, the Comstock Act, is the GOP's latest hack to bypass Congress and impose a nationwide abortion ban," Bush added. "When people tell you who they are, believe them. I am proud to be working alongside my colleagues in introducing legislation to repeal the Comstock Act and protect access to abortion care."

The Comstock Act bars the mailing of any "instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing" that "may, or can, be used or applied for producing abortion." Legal experts have described the law, which hasn't been applied in a century, as the "most significant national threat to reproductive rights."

The Stop Comstock Act would "repeal provisions of the Comstock laws that anti-abortion extremists want to willfully misapply in order to criminalize providers and ban abortion nationwide without any congressional action," according to a summary released by the bill's supporters.

"It's time we take immediate action to stop Republicans from abusing the Comstock Act to further erode our reproductive rights," said bill co-sponsor Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.).

"Anti-abortion extremists have manipulated laws to ban abortion before, and they are promising to do it again."

The Democratic effort to defang Comstock comes as Trump allies are plotting to use the law to attack abortion rights if the former president wins another four years in the White House.

Project 2025, a sweeping right-wing agenda crafted by conservative organizations with the help of some former Trump administration officials, calls for the U.S. Justice Department to use the Comstock Act against "providers and distributors" of abortion pills. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of preserving access to mifepristone, a medication that is commonly used for abortion care.

Jonathan Mitchell, the key architect of a draconian 2021 Texas abortion ban and a Trump attorney, toldThe New York Times earlier this year that "we don't need a federal [abortion] ban when we have Comstock on the books."

"I hope he doesn't know about the existence of Comstock, because I just don't want him to shoot off his mouth," Mitchell, who is seen as a possible attorney general pick for the former president, said of Trump. "I think the pro-life groups should keep their mouths shut as much as possible until the election."

Madison Roberts, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, said in a statement Friday that "Trump's advisers are quietly plotting to bypass Congress and misuse a 150-year-old law to attempt to ban abortion in every state in the country."

"They are arguing that the Comstock Act is a de facto national abortion ban already on the books, and they are wrong," said Roberts. "The Department of Justice has made clear and federal appeals courts have uniformly held for almost a century that the Comstock Act does not apply to legal abortion care. But anti-abortion extremists have manipulated laws to ban abortion before, and they are promising to do it again—even in states that have passed statutory and constitutional protections for abortion."

"We applaud leaders in Congress for introducing the Stop Comstock Act to fight back against extremists' threats to misuse Comstock as a nationwide abortion ban," Roberts added. "We will continue to work with elected leaders to raise the alarm and neutralize this potential anti-abortion attack before Trump allies get the chance to launch it."

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