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Star-Telegram, other newspapers won't run 'Doonesbury' abortion comic strip in print

Posted Saturday, Mar. 10, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Editor's note: Read the original Doonesbury strip each day at right.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A national syndicate will offer replacement Doonesbury comic strips to newspapers that don't want to run a series that uses graphic imagery to lampoon a Texas law requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, executives said Friday.

A handful of newspapers say they won't run next week's series, while several others said the strips will move from the comics to opinion pages or websites only.

Beginning Monday, the Star-Telegram will run the replacement strips in print and publish the abortion series online at www.star-telegram.com/opinions/.

Many newspapers, including the Star-Telegram, already publish the strip by cartoonist Garry Trudeau, whose sarcastic swipes at society's foibles have a history of giving headaches to newspaper editors, on editorial pages.

"We run Doonesbury on our op-ed page, and this series is an example of why," said David Averill, editorial page editor for the Tulsa World. "Many of our readers will disagree with the political stance the series takes, and some will be offended by the clinical language. I believe, however, that this series of strips is appropriate to the abortion debate and appropriate to our op-ed pages."

The strips feature a woman who goes to an abortion clinic and is confronted by several people who suggest she should be ashamed. Among them is a doctor who reads a script on behalf of Gov. Rick Perry welcoming her to a "compulsory transvaginal exam" and a middle-aged legislator who calls her a "slut."

One panel equates the invasive procedure to rape and describes the device used to perform it as a "10-inch shaming wand."

"Our readers are accustomed to pointed political and social commentary in strips like 'Doonesbury' and 'Mallard Fillmore,'" Tom McNiff, managing editor of The Gainesville Sun and Ocala Star-Banner in central Florida, said in an e-mailed statement explaining the decision not to run the series. "But the language the author used to make his point in two of the strips was quite graphic for a general readership."

Trudeau said Friday that "it would have been a little surprising" if there hadn't been any pushback against the series.

"Abortion remains a deeply contentious subject. Having said that, the goal is definitely not to antagonize editors and get booted from papers," he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "It's just an occupational risk."

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

Asked for comment on the Doonesbury series, Perry spokesman Catherine Frazier said the governor is proud of his leadership on the sonogram law.

"The decision to end a life is not funny," Frazier said. "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."

Sue Roush, managing editor at the Universal UClick syndicate, said newspapers uncomfortable with the abortion law series can run the substitutes.

Steve Shirk, manager editor of The Kansas City Star, said his paper will use the replacements in the comics section while moving the abortion series to the opinion page.

"We felt the content was too much for many of the readers of our family-friendly comic page," Shirk said.

"We felt that [the op-ed] page was more appropriate for that story line."

States other than Texas have 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 mocked and parodied on Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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