published Friday, March 9th, 2012

Papers debate using Doonesbury abortion law strips

  • photo
    In this April 5, 2008 file photo, Gary B. Trudeau, cartoonist and creator of "Doonesbury," speaks in New Haven, Conn. Universal Press Syndicate will offer replacement Doonesbury comic strips next week to newspapers that don't want to run a series focusing on a Texas law that requires women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion, officials said today. (AP Photo/Douglas Healey, File)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BILL DRAPER, Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Universal Press Syndicate will offer replacement Doonesbury comic strips next week to newspapers that don't want to run a series focusing on a Texas law that requires women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion, officials said Friday.

Some papers were debating the use and placement of the series by cartoonist Garry Trudeau, whose sarcastic swipes at society's foibles have a history of giving headaches to newspaper editors. Papers often choose to run Doonesbury on opinion and editorial pages rather than in the comics.

"We've heard from a handful of papers that are uncomfortable with running the series and want substitutes," said Sue Roush, managing editor at Universal Press. "Garry has provided us with substitutes in case anyone asks."

The series focused on the Texas law features a woman who goes to a clinic and is confronted by several people who suggest she should be shamed for seeking an abortion. Among them is a doctor who reads a script on behalf of Texas Gov. Rick Perry welcoming her to a "compulsory transvaginal exam," and a middle-aged legislator who calls the woman a "slut."

Texas' law does not specify the type of sonogram a woman must receive, but an invasive transvaginal ultrasound is necessary to meet the law's other requirements that a doctor show the woman an image of the fetus, describing its features and make the fetal heartbeat audible in the first trimester. The procedure uses a wand inserted in the vagina to yield an image of the fetus and differs from an abdominal sonogram, in which the wand is rubbed over a woman's belly.

Universal Press Syndicate president Lee Salem said he wouldn't be surprised if 20 to 30 of the 1,400 newspapers that carry the strip decided to opt out and run the replacement series.

"Once every five or six months there's usually something in Doonesbury that causes a stir," Salem said. "Every two or three years there's something that causes a bigger stir. This is probably one of those times. Historically, that's par for the course with Doonesbury because Garry explores topics on comics pages that are not normally there."

Other states have recently enacted laws requiring pre-abortion ultrasounds, although Virginia removed a provision from its measure that specifically called for the invasive exam. The measure in its original form had become a target of national political columnists and the word "transvaginal" was lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

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