Tuesday, March 13, 2012
'Doonesbury' Strip Calls Texas Abortion, Ultrasound Law 'Rape,' Scares Newspapers

'Doonesbury' Strip Calls Texas Abortion, Ultrasound Law 'Rape,' Scares Newspapers

About a dozen newspapers are reportedly planning to turn down this week a controversial new "Doonesbury" cartoon strip skewering a Texas law that requires women who are seeking abortions to receive sonograms, which the comic's creator describes as "rape."

The cartoon strip by award-winning cartoonist Garry Trudeau criticizes the Texas law adopted in February that mandates abortion providers show or verbally detail to women seeking the procedure an ultrasound image of the unborn baby.

Trudeau weighed in on the issue with a cartoon depicting a young woman seeking an abortion being shown, in a series of comic strips lasting a week, going through the new procedures. For instance, in one caption, the woman is faced with a middle-aged male doctor saying: "On behalf of Governor Rick Perry, may I welcome you to your compulsory transvaginal exam." The woman is also told, while in the doctor's office, to wait in "the shaming room." The series ends with the woman going home to wait 24 hours before having the abortion, as the Texas law requires.

The cartoonist evoked a particular controversy when he compared the sonogram procedure enclosed within the law to rape, as other opponents of the law have done.

"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," he told the Post. "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."

The Texas law requires that those providing abortion perform an ultrasound on women, and either show or detail to them the image of the fetus, as well as allow them to listen to the fetal heartbeat. Although women can refuse to see the ultrasound image and listen to the heartbeat, they are legally required to listen to a description of the examination.

On Friday, it became clear that about a dozen U.S. newspapers have concerns about running the strip.

Editors from these newspapers reportedly reached out to Universal Uclick, the publisher of "Doonesbury," asking about whether an alternate strip would be offered. It is not clear yet which newspapers chose not to run the strip.

One newspaper that decided not to run it Monday was The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., which "has decided to pull the week's strips and will direct readers online if they want to read them," said Features Editor JoLene Krawczak. In a note to readers Friday, the newspaper declared that Trudeau "went over the line of good taste and humor in penning a series on abortion using graphic language and images inappropriate for a comics page."

Some other papers, like the Cleveland Plain Dealer, have reportedly decided to publish the strips. But the Dealer also said in a statement: "Garry Trudeau's metier is political satire; if we choose to carry 'Doonesbury,' we can't yank the strip every time it deals with a highly charged issue. His fans are every bit as vocal as his critics. We are alerting readers to the nature of the strips so they can decide whether to read them next week."

Another newspaper that chose to run the strip is the Knoxville Sentinel. The paper published an explanation of its decision, while also printing an emotional letter from a reader critical of the strip: "We are aware that the 'Doonesbury' comic strip is planning a series to begin the week of March 11, 2012 which we feel is despicable in its content of comparing the sonogram of a pregnant women to RAPE!!! The strip is offering different content to newspapers that choose not to run this offensive slant on a state's (Texas) new requirement. I am a subscriber of the Knoxville Sentinel and respectfully request that you select the less offensive alternate strip they are offering."

"Although some readers will object to Trudeau's depiction, others will consider his satire to be appropriate given the controversial requirements of the new Texas law," the Knoxville Sentinel editors wrote in their explanation. "We did not think it correct to deprive those readers who wished to see the cartoons of the opportunity to do so, as long as they were presented in the context of the editorial page, where strong opinions frequently are delivered and where the readers overwhelmingly are adults seeking lively discourse on public issues. Readers who do not wish to see the strips have the option, of course, of ignoring them."

"Doonesbury" only canceled one strip in the past, in 1985, and it was also a cartoon about abortion.

Meanwhile, Trudeau, was unapologetic. "To ignore it [the issue], would have been comedy malpractice," he told The Washington Post.

"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," he said. "For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago."

Many pro-life organizations, including Texas Alliance for Life, have supported the ruling. "We're one of the organizations lobbying for the bill. We're glad that it's being fully enforced," Joe Pojman, the executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, told The Christian Post last month. Pojman added that the law "raises the standard of care regarding informed consent for abortion to the same level that a patient would expect for any other medical or surgical procedure in Texas."

Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, said in a statement, "Our Sonogram Law is the best chance we've had in decades to take pregnant girls right out of Planned Parenthood and shut down their filthy, evil business."

It is claimed that when pregnancy centers with abortion services allow women to see the ultrasound, about 80 percent of women change their minds about having the procedure.