‘Doonesbury’ Tackles the Texas Sonogram Law

Doonesbury takes on the controversial sonogram law this week, devoting six pen-and-ink comic strips to the legislation, but several newspapers around the country are boycotting the strip. 
Mon March 12, 2012 7:12 pm
AP Photo | Douglas Healey

{media number=1 align=left} Courtesy of Universal Uclick. {/media} Doonesbury takes on the Texas sonogram law this week, devoting six pen-and-ink comic strips to the legislation.

The strips feature a fictional woman navigating the new regulations that require every woman seeking an abortion have a transvaginal ultrasound and wait 24 hours before having the procedure. In the strip, a nurse tells the woman, “Sorry miss, you’re first trimester. The male Republicans who run Texas require that all abortion seekers be examined with a 10 inch shaming wand.”

The Dallas Morning News ran a (paywalled) story by Christy Hoppe in Sunday’s paper on the controversial strips and the paper’s ultimate decision to run them (there had been chatter that the DMN would boycott the strip). Hoppe notes that in the cartoons, a state legislator named Sid Patrick—an amalgamation of state representative Sid Miller and state senator Dan Patrick, two legislators who sponsored the legislation—meets with the woman in the strip and asks the woman “Do your parents know you’re a slut?”

The Texas sonogram law, which received scant national attention when it was passed during the 82nd legislature session, has been enforced since February, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit lifted a temporary injunction against the law.

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau told Hoppe that he only learned of the Texas sonogram bill while similar legislation was working its way through the Virginia legislature. “The Texas story was so unusually callous and dispiriting that it seemed a good place for me to start,” Trudeau explained.

“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,” Trudeau told the Washington Post . Doonesbury last tackled the topic of abortion in 1985, with a strip on The Silent Scream .

Catherine Frazier, Perry’s press secretary, was unamused by Trudeau’s take on the law: “The decision to end a life isn’t funny,” Frazier told Hoppe. “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.”

Some 1,400 papers run Doonesbury, and “30 or 40” of them have asked Doonesbury’s distributor about receiving substitute strips to run in place of the abortion strips. According to the Guardian, the Kansas Daily Star will definitely not run the strips. The Dallas Morning News mulled the decision to publish the strip, but ultimately decided to because, as editor Bob Mong told Hoppe, the strips are “fair comment.” The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News both opted to pull the strips from the comics section and run them instead in the paper’s Outlook section.

Bob Moore, editor of the El Paso Times , explained his paper’s decision to run the strips, which always run in the opinion section:

The ‘Doonesbury’ series on the new Texas law is, in the tradition of the strip, pointed and destined to stir discussion. That fits with the purpose of our opinion page. We expect our readers will engage in a discussion of the contents of the latest ‘Doonesbury’ installment, and we look forward to carrying parts of that discussion on our opinion pages and our digital platforms in the coming days.

Media critic Jim Romenesko, who reported last week that the Dallas Morning News was considering pulling the strips, had the details on their contents:

Monday: Young woman arrives for her pre-termination sonogram, is told to take a seat in the shaming room, a middle-aged male state legislator will be right with her.

Tuesday: He asks her if this is her first visit to the center, she replies no, that she’s been using the contraceptive services for some time. He says, “I see. Do your parents know you’re a slut?”

Wednesday: A different male is reading to her about the transvaginal exam process.

Thursday: In the stirrups, she is telling a nurse that she doesn’t want a transvaginal exam. Doctor says “Sorry miss, you’re first trimester. The male Republicans who run Texas require that all abortion seekers be examined with a 10″ shaming wand.” She asks “Will it hurt?” Nurse says, “Well, it’s not comfortable, honey. But Texas feels you should have thought of that.” Doctor says, “By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape.”

Friday: Doctor is explaining that the Texas GOP requires her to have an intimate encounter with her fetus. He begins describing it to her. Last panel, he says, “Shall I describe it’s hopes and dreams?” She replies, “If it wants to be the next Rick Perry, I’ve made up my mind.”

Saturday: Back in the reception area, she asks where she goes now for the actual abortion. Receptionist tells her there’s a 24-hour waiting period: “The Republican Party is hoping you get caught in a shame spiral and change your mind.” Last panel: She says, “A final indignity.” Receptionist replies, “Not quite. Here’s your bill.”

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