At a press conference on Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced their plan to introduce a bill that would repeal a provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which makes it a crime to provide information about abortion on the Internet. The provision, which was not in either the Senate or House version and went unnoticed until President Clinton had signed the bill last month, applies the 1873 Comstock Act to the Internet and makes it illegal to send material on abortion through the mail or across state lines. The fine is $250,000 and/or five years in prison.
Speaking at the press conference were: Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Although Attorney General Janet Reno has called this provision of the bill unconstitutional and the Clinton administration has said it will not enforce the provision, supporters of the new bill warned that an anti-choice president in the future could choose to prosecute those violating the provision. Such a decision would put many women’s and abortion rights organizations in jeopardy.
Called a “high tech gag rule,” the provision would curtail the ability of health care advocates, women’s rights activists, abortion providers, and all Internet users to share and exchange information. The Feminist Majority Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit in conjunction with the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and other women’s rights and reproductive rights organizations to challenge the ban. Both sides in the case of Sanger v. Reno agree the ban on information is unconstitutional, but the plaintiffs warn that if the law remains on the books, it could be enforced under an anti-choice administration. Lawmakers cite this as another setback for women’s health, and the Feminist Majority Foundation considers it an “outrageous affront to freedom of information and women’s rights.”