Cartoon about abortion dropped by some US newspapers

Doonesbury comic strip comparing Texas abortion law to rape causes controversy.

Doonesbury, the political cartoon which runs in 1,400 newspapers across the US, has caused controversy with a strip about abortion.

Several US newspapers are refusing to run the cartoon, which lampoons a law in Texas and other states that requires women to have an ultrasound before receiving an abortion, so that they will see the foetus and potentially reconsider. Other papers will publish it on their editorials page rather than in the comic section.

The cartoon sequence, to run over six days, depicts a woman arriving at an abortion clinic in Texas. She is told to take a seat in "the shaming room".

doonesbury

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In the next strip, a state legislator then asks whether she has previously visited the clinic. She replies that she has been to get contraceptives. With echoes of Rush Limbaugh's controversial comments last week, he says: "Do your parents know you're a slut?" Later, the woman says she doesn't want the invasive vaginal examination. A nurse tells her: "The male Republicans who run Texas require that all abortion seekers be examined with a 10-inch shaming wand." The nurse continues: "By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape."

Universal Uclick, the syndicator that distributes Doonesbury, said they had had inquiries from between 30 and 40 newspapers asking about a substitute cartoon strip.

Doonesbury's creator, Garry Trudeau, told the Guardian:

I write the strip to be read, not removed. And as a practical matter, many more people will see it in the comics page than on the editorial page

I don't mean to be disingenuous. Obviously there's some profit to controversy, especially for a satirist. If debate is swirling around a particular strip, and if its absence creates blowback, then I'm contributing to the public conversation in a more powerful way. But I don't get up in the morning and scheme about how to antagonise editors. Some of these folks have supported me for decades.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.