Birth Control

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Revelations of the existence of a quietly functioning "birth control clinic" at the Fifth Ave. (Manhattan) office of the American Birth Control League, combined with the agitation over a clinic in Chicago (TIME, Dec. 3) and the anticipated clash over birth control in the 68th Congress have again placed in the foreground of public attention one of the most vexed and, from whatever standpoint considered, one of the most important of medico-social problems.

Legality. The U. S. is now the only civilized country, with the possible exception of Japan, which places absolute legal restrictions on the dissemination of information on methods of preventing conception. The present Federal legislation consists mainly of Section 211 of the Penal Code, enacted by Congress in the flurry of a closing session on March 3, 1873, at the instance of Anthony Comstock.— It reads in part: "Every obscene, lewd or lascivious book, pamphlet ... or other publication of an indecent character, and every article . . . designed, adapted, or intended for preventing conception or producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral use ... is hereby declared to be non-mailable matter. . . The penalty imposed for violation is a fine of not more than $5,000, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. This and later Federal statutes, lumping all forms of contraceptive information indiscriminately with pornography and obscenity, prohibit the advertising, manufacturing and selling of, or interstate or foreign commerce in such articles or knowledge. The effect has been to limit their manufacture, sale and the giving of information to individual States. Nineteen States have clear and definite legislation essentially similar to the Federal statutes. Twenty-five other States have more ambiguous laws relating to "obscene, vulgar and indecent" objects or written matter of "immoral purpose." Four States—Georgia, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina— have no legislation on birth control. One State—Connecticut—goes the limit, no exceptions, even to prohibiting the use of any "drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception."

In most States the action of the law depends on judicial interpretation. The recent decision of a Chicago court finds no provision in the Illinois law which would prevent the establishment of a clinic, while the New York statute specifically excepts from its prohibitions articles "used by physicians lawfully practicing, for the cure or prevention of disease.

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