FORUM: Women Knitters Take on Legislators

Article excerpt

Sometimes, a person has to take matters into her own hands. Literally. May I introduce you to the women behind

A group of "middle-aged, mild-mannered, hotdish-loving Minnesota women" (quoting blogger and fellow Minnesotan Caroline Burau) has taken up their knitting needles and crochet hooks in the cause of women's health care and reproductive justice.

These residents of America's great heartland started a nationwide movement for women to send colorful, beautifully-crafted lady-parts to the clones of Anthony Comstock, who are running amok in Congress and state legislatures nationwide.

Suggested message: "Dear (fill in legislator's name): 'Hands off my uterus. Here's one of your own.'"

Given what Comstock wrought, I am particularly fond of the fact that these creations are being delivered largely through the U.S. Postal Service.

As special inspector for the Post Office Department, the self- appointed anti-vice crusader created the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and was responsible for the implementation of an 1873 federal law on which Connecticut's and many other states' "Comstock laws" were based.

This web of federal and state regulations was intended to stamp out any activities that Comstock and his followers considered "obscene" or "sinful."

A major feature of these laws was the prohibition against distributing "obscene" materials through the U.S. mail. Birth control devices and literature -- which did exist in the late 19th century -- were at the top of Comstock's very long hit list.

Despite his obsession with morality, Comstock had no problem using unsavory tactics. Entrapment was a favorite. Writing under a false name, he would request birth control material and then have the advertiser, often a physician or pharmacist, arrested. Birth control crusaders regularly defied these laws; many were arrested and prosecuted.

Comstock's influence seemed to have run its course by 1965 when, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court found that state prohibitions against contraception were unconstitutional.

But more than four decades after Griswold, a gaggle of right- wing state legislators, governors and members of Congress has been channeling Comstock. This is the crew that wants to get government "off the backs of the people" (by, for instance, gutting environmental regulations), but that can hardly wait, as my mother used to say, "to stick their noses where they don't belong. …