Pro-Choice 'Doonesbury' Too Much for Many US Papers

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Common Dreams

Pro-Choice 'Doonesbury' Too Much for Many US Papers

by
Common Dreams staff

Fans of Garry Trudeau's 'Doonesbury' may have to adjust their reading habits this week as many US newspapers have decided to move the popular comic strip from its place on the comics page to the editorial section. Some papers, in fact, have decide to drop the strip entirely after they saw that this week's arch would be grappling with a rash of new state laws across the country that will require  women seeking abortions to submit to state-run ultrasounds and other invasive procedures.

Here's the first strip in the series, due out Monday in the more than 1,400 papers that run the syndicated comic:

The Los Angeles Times is one of the papers that has decided to run the series, but will move it from the comic pages, where it normally appears, to their Op-Ed page. Explaining the decision, Sue Horton, the Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, said, "We carry both op-eds and cartoons about controversial subjects, and this is a controversial subject."

And The Guardian in the UK, which also runs the strip, reported today:

Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau has defended his cartoon strip about abortion, which several US newspapers are refusing to run, saying he felt compelled to respond to the way Republicans across America are undermining women's healthcare rights.

The strip, published on Monday and scheduled to run all week, has been rejected by several papers, while others said they were switching it from the comic section to the editorial page.

In an email exchange with the Guardian, Trudeau expressed dismay over the papers' decision but was unrepentant, describing as "appalling" and "insane" Republican state moves on women's healthcare.

About 1,400 newspapers, including the Guardian, take the Doonesbury cartoon. The Guardian newspaper is running the cartoon as normal on Monday.

The strip deals specifically with a law introduced in Texas and other states requiring a woman who wants to have an abortion to have an ultrasound scan, or sonogram, which will show an image of the foetus and other details, in an attempt to make her reconsider.

It portrays a woman who turns up at an abortion clinic in Texas and is told to take a seat in "the shaming room". A state legislator asks if she has been at the clinic before and, when she says she had been to get contraceptives, he replies: "Do your parents know you're a slut?"

Later, she says she does not want an intrusive vaginal examination but is told by a nurse: "The male Republicans who run Texas require that all abortion seekers be examined with a 10-inch shaming wand." The nurse adds: "By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape."

The Kansas City Star is among the papers not running the cartoon in its normal slot. "We felt the content was too much for many of the readers of our family-friendly comic page," an editor told Associated Press. The Star will use a replacement strip offered by the organisation that syndicates Doonesbury, Universal Uclick, and move the abortion one to its editorial pages.

The cartoonist was not surprised about the controversary surrounding the new series, and defended it in several interviews by saying that the new spate of laws was shocking, deplorable, and rife with comic opportunity. “To ignore it,” Trudeau told The Washington Post, “would have been comedy malpractice.” Trudeau's complete interview with the Posts follows:

Q: In 1985, you decided to pull a week of abortion-related strips satirizing the film “The Silent Scream,” which purported to show the reactions of a fetus. So what’s different now? What spurred you to create an abortion narrative in the current political climate?

A: In my 42 years with UPS, the “Silent Scream” week was the only series that the syndicate ever strongly objected to. [Syndicate president Lee Salem] felt that it would be deeply harmful to the feature and that we would lose clients permanently. They had supported me through so much for so long, I felt obliged to go with their call.

Such was not the case this week. There was no dispute over contents, just some discussion over whether to prepare a substitute week for editors who requested one [which we did].

I chose the topic of compulsory sonograms because it was in the news and because of its relevance to the broader battle over women’s health currently being waged in several states. For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago. Why [Rick] Santorum, [Rush] Limbaugh et al. thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate, I cannot say. But to ignore it would have been comedy malpractice.

Q: After four decades, you’re an expert at knowing the hot-button satiric words and phrases — such as, in the case [this] week, terms such as “10-inch shaming wand.” Can you speak to how you approached writing these strips?

A: Oddly, for such a sensitive topic, I found it easy to write. The story is very straightforward — it’s not high-concept like [the satiric] Little Timmy in “Silent Scream” — and the only creative problem I had to work through was the physician’s perspective. I settled on resigned outrage.

Texas’s HB-15 [bill] isn’t hard to explain: The bill says that in order for a woman to obtain a perfectly legal medical procedure, she is first compelled by law to endure a vaginal probe with a hard, plastic 10-inch wand. The World Health Organization defines rape as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration — even if slight — of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.” You tell me the difference.

Q: Going back through the history of the strip, I'm surprised not to see a previous abortion strip in “Doonesbury’s” dossier. Have you tackled abortion before?

A: No. Roe v. Wade was decided while I was still in school. Planned Parenthood was embraced by both parties. Contraception was on its way to being used by 99 percent of American women. I thought reproductive rights was a settled issue. Who knew we had turned into a nation of sluts?

Q: Over the past 40 years, “Doonesbury” helped change the comics game for many newspapers and comics creators themselves. Do you think newspaper editors have “loosened up” over time regarding comics? Or have they grown more reluctant or skittish — or, even worse, dispassionate?

A: It’s a mix, but in general I spend much less time playing defense, presumably because of the ubiquity of topical satire these days. “South Park” and “The Daily Show” have stretched the envelope so much, most editors no longer see “Doonesbury” as the rolling provocation they once did.

Plus, I think I get a bit of a pass simply because I’ve been around so long. After all this time, editors know pretty much what they’re going to get with the strip.

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