Politics / Reproductive Rights / Women and Gender

‘Doonesbury’s Abortion Series Tackles Bullshit Mandatory Ultrasound Legislation and Faces Censorship

So Monday morning, I woke up to the above Doonesbury comic in my inbox courtesy of the great feminist film site Feminema. I’m thrilled Garry Trudeau tackled the ridiculous and offensive mandatory ultrasound legislation in Texas.

In Texas and Virgina, if you get an abortion, you’re “forced to get an ultrasound, view the image and hear a government-mandated description of the image” from your doctor. If you say no? Too bad. You still must undergo the transvaginal ultrasound and pay for the procedure. Invading your body against your consent? Yeah, that’s “state sanctioned rape.” Other states, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Idaho, Kentucky, Rhode Island have also proposed bullshit mandatory ultrasound legislation.

Trudeau launched the first in a series on reproductive rights, the first time in 40 years he’s addressed abortion. In an interview with the Washington Post, Trudeau said that he’s never written an abortion comic before because Roe v. Wade had passed, 99% of women used contraception (still do) and both Democrats and Republicans supported Planned Parenthood:

“I thought reproductive rights was a settled issue. Who knew we had turned into a nation of sluts?”

As to why he’s writing about abortion now, Trudeau said:

“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…

(Several states? More like half the country.)

“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.”

But not everyone supports Trudeau’s decision. Over 60 newspapers have refused to run Doonesbury’s abortion series. Newspaper editors who object, like JoLene Krawczak of Portland’s The Oregonian, claim 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.”

David Newhouse, editor of The Patriot News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania writes that “this is neither about a liberal nor a conservative political perspective” but rather it’s a matter of language and “the standards of taste.” In particular, the editor opposed the language of today’s comic in the series that reads, “By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape.” Editor Carol Hanner of the Winston-Salem Journal said, “the images and language seemed too mature for our comics’ family audience.” Tom McNiff, the editor of The Gainesville Sun and Ocala Star-Banner, said they’re not running Doonesbury’s series because,

“The language the author used to make his point in two of the strips was quite graphic for a general readership.”

While The Santa Maria Times in California believes in “freedom of expression,” they stated,

“However, we also believe in maintaining standards of civility and taste in a family newspaper…”

Other newspapers, such as The Kansas City Star and The Los Angeles Times, chose to run the series on their op-ed pages instead of in the comics section, rather than omit them all together.

So let me get this straight. These “graphic” images and this uncivil language aren’t in “good taste.” But the invasive transvaginal ultrasound laws which not only restrict access to reproductive healthcare (yep, abortion is healthcare) but also require people obtaining an abortion undergo a procedure that violates their consent…those are just morally acceptable???

Here’s a thought: Maybe people shouldn’t be so riled up at Trudeau’s comics but at the anti-choice legislation. As Sarah Erdreich at Feminists for Choice and Fem2.0 astutely asserts:

“But such censorship seems particularly odd when you consider that Trudeau is addressing laws that are actually being enacted in this country – he’s not making them up, though he may have coined the phrase “shaming wand” to refer to the transvaginal ultrasound probe.

“If readers disagree with or are offended by what he’s saying, then perhaps the bigger issue lies with the laws themselves. After all, if it’s so offensive to see this language in a newspaper, how much more offensive must it be for a doctor to be forced to read something similar to a patient? And how much more offensive must it be for the woman that is forced to hear it?”

Why are people so offended to see/read/hear this?? These are precisely the harmful, offensive, sexist, racist, classist (I could go on and on) laws legislators are proposing/passing at the state and federal level. Do those who oppose the Doonesbury series actually think that if they bury their head in the sand it will all go away? Or perhaps they don’t give a shit about the attack on women and trans men.

When we avert our eyes to the struggles of the oppressed, it becomes harder to oppose and easier to tolerate. Talking about Doonesbury‘s censorship, Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check asserts:

“What it confirms for me is what I have believed for a long time… that the less “visible” are the human rights, economic, or social abuses we heap on people in this country–whether these take the form of mandatory ultrasounds to the shackling of pregnant or laboring women in prison to abstinence-only programs that de-humanize LGBT youth to the effects on low-income people of cuts in public transport, unemployment insurance and other social survival programs–the more we are willing to tolerate and in fact expand those abuses.

“Because we don’t see them.”

Hopefully, the outrage over the censorship will draw attention to the anti-choice bills. These comics shouldn’t be controversial. The bullshit legislation should be.


To read all of Garry Trudeau’s abortion series comics. To sign Center for Reproductive Rights‘ petition to editors censoring Doonesbury.

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5 thoughts on “‘Doonesbury’s Abortion Series Tackles Bullshit Mandatory Ultrasound Legislation and Faces Censorship

  1. It cracked me up that some papers felt “uncomfortable” printing these. Amazing. Sometimes dealing with the “ridonckulousness” of it all means dealing with the uncomfortable parts.

    Nice post!

  2. I always liked “Doonesbury,” but i hadn’t seen these recent comic strips.
    I thought the first one was hilarious, and it’s cool Trudeau isn’t intimidated to
    bring this subject to his strip.

    Hopefully, Garfield won’t do a counterpoint comic.
    I always pictured that orange cat as a Republican, the older (and lazier)
    he became.

  3. Thanks for writing about this incredibly important issue, and for re-directing the controversy back to the legislation and away from the comics page. -Janna, Center for Reproductive Rights

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