The abortion debate is too much for the funny pages according to several newspapers across the country.
Garry Trudeau, creator and writer of the liberal comic strip Doonesbury, decided to address the abortion debate in his most recent story arc. In it, a woman seeking an abortion is directed to the “shame room” and she is called a “slut” by a Texas state legislator.
Some newspapers, like the Kansas City Star, decided to place the Doonesbury strip on the editorial page, while some, like the Portland Oregonian, decided to drop this week’s strip altogether.
I reserve some sympathy for the editors who chose to move the strip to the editorial pages. This story-arc uses references and comparisons to rape. And, because the funny pages are what children will dig through a paper to find, I can understand why some editors would hesitate to run the comic there. But, many editors disregarded the strip completely, and that choice is irresponsible considering the important debate that is happening over women’s health today.
Editors at the Portland Oregonian won’t print the strip and said that they thought the strip “…went over the line of good taste and humor with strips that were too graphic – in language and images…” The Vacaville, California paper The Reporter isn’t going to run the strip “…not because of Garry Trudeau’s opinion on the matter, but because editors believe he has expressed that opinion in a manner that skirts, if not crosses, the boundaries of good taste expected in a family newspaper.” A particularly intriguing, and I think telling response to the strip came from the editor of the Athens Georgia newspaper Banner-Herald, Jim Thompson. “Given that the Georgia General Assembly is considering an abortion bill … which would prohibit abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy — I made a unilateral decision not to publish the ‘Doonesbury’ … I thought there was a real possibility that readers might confuse the topic of this week’s ‘Doonesbury’ with Georgia’s proposed abortion legislation…” said Thompson.
Editors who pulled the strip or just moved it to the editorial page have made their decisions around these issues: They think it is inappropriate in a “family paper.” Or they believe readers will be offended by a political strip on their funny pages. And some actually acknowledges that this Doonesbury strip – even as a comic – looks too real compared to the legislation that is being proposed now. Which seems to be evidence that legislation is getting so absurdly invasive that we think readers would believe a comic represents reality.
Thompson’s justification for not publishing the comic because it seemed too realistic is precisely the reason papers should be printing this strip. The bills that GOP leaders have been proposing are overreaching and absurd. Trudeau barely had to exaggerate to make his point. And that means that we should be talking about these issues in an open honest – even blatant – way. We’re not supposed to talk about abortion around the dinner table because the debate has typically been so polarizing. But, in the absence of discussion, the GOP has used that silence to effortlessly pass countless bills that restrict women’s reproductive rights. Now the bills are getting even more outrageous.
In this week’s story arc Trudeau is specifically referring to a Texas bill that would require women get a sonogram that would show them the fetus and hear its heartbeat before seeking an abortion. This looks a lot like the transvaginal ultrasound bill that got slightly adjusted in Virginia after it was called out as “state-sanctioned rape.” But, because the Texas bill doesn’t specifically mandate that doctors use a wand or transvaginal methods (although it implicitly does since that would be the only way to determine the information required by the bill), it hasn’t received as much media attention.
Another reason this Texas legislation has been overlooked is due to red-state-fatalism (“What can you do about Texas, anyway?”). It hasn’t been covered as much as the Virginia bill: even though it has a potential to be as invasive as the original draft of Virginia’s transvaginal ultrasound bill. And Trudeau was right to address it in the same way Amy Poehler, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow addressed the Virginia bill: with biting humor.
Through Trudeau’s cutting satire, he reveals the disturbing truth behind the bills being proposed and passed by the GOP in state governments. And, editors should be open to the controversy that comes from this Doonesbury story arc. We all should be outraged and openly discussing these bills; especially on the editorial pages and even on the funny pages.