'Doonesbury' abortion-themed comic strip stirs controversy

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Image Credit: Katherine Frey/Getty Images

After 42 years Garry Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury can still create a stir. The latest series of the liberal comic will satirize a Texas law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. In the comic, which is available on the Los Angeles Times‘ website, a woman arrives at the doctor for her ultrasound and is told “Please take a seat in the shaming room. A middle-aged, male state legislator will be with you in a moment.”

Because of the ad’s controversial nature, editors at the Times and several other newspapers have decided to move the series from its usual spot in the comic section and run it on the op-ed page for the entire six-day run. Of the 1,400 papers that carry Doonesbury, many (including the Kansas City Star) are opting not to run this arc at all. “I write the strip to be read, not removed,” Trudeau complained to the U.K. paper The Guardian in an e-mail.

Trudeau added, “I don’t mean to be disingenuous. Obviously there’s some profit to controversy, especially for a satirist. If debate is swirling around a particular strip, and if its absence creates blowback, then I’m contributing to the public conversation in a more powerful way. But I don’t get up in the morning and scheme about how to antagonize editors.”

Forthcoming strips will call the vaginal examination tool a “10-inch shaming wand,” and show a nurse saying, “By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape,” according to The Guardian. The Times added that the woman seeking the abortion will be called a slut by her doctor, who is reading from a scripted greeting from Governor Rick Perry.

Gov. Perry’s spokesperson told The Guardian, “The decision to end a life is not funny. There is nothing comic about this tasteless interpretation of legislation we have passed in Texas to ensure that women have all the facts when making a life-ending decision.”

It’s not the first time this comic has confronted the issue of abortion. Notably, Trudeau published a 1985 series that mocked anti-abortion film The Silent Scream. He was also a vanguard in bringing hot-button topics like drugs, AIDS, premarital sex, same-sex unions, and political corruption into the national conversation.

Read more:
Enter Mike Doonesbury
EW book review: 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective
Comics icon Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud dies at age 73

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