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".


Click here to see a larger version.

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.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.