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Papers debate 'Doonesbury' series on abortion law
Papers debate using 'Doonesbury' series lampooning Texas abortion law that requires ultrasound
By The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) ' A national syndicate will offer replacement "Doonesbury" comic strips to newspapers that don't want to run an upcoming series that uses graphic imagery to lampoon a Texas law that requires women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion, officials said Friday.

Papers were debating the use and placement of next week's strips by cartoonist Garry Trudeau, whose sarcastic swipes at society's foibles have a history of giving headaches to newspaper editors.

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

The Texas series features 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 Texas 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 emailed statement explaining his papers' decision not to run the strip. "But the language the author used to make his point in two of the strips was quite graphic for a general readership."

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 uses a wand inserted in the vagina to yield an image and differs from an abdominal sonogram, in which the wand is rubbed over a woman's belly.

Asked for a comment on the "Doonesbury" series, Perry spokesman Catherine Frasier said, "The decision to end a life isn't funny."

Several newspapers that already opt to publish "Doonesbury" on opinion pages said the Texas series still would run, while others said they would move the series from the comics to op-ed pages.

Steve Shirk, manager editor of The Kansas City Star, said his paper would use the replacements in the comics section.

"We felt the content was too much for many of the readers of our family friendly comic page," Shirk said. "We felt that (op-ed) page was more appropriate for that story line."

Chris Mele, executive editor of the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa., said the paper will run the replacement strips during the week, but plans to run the Texas series March 18 on the front page of its op-ed section.

He said the paper would explain in the section why it decided to do so and try to "have a dialogue" with its readers about the debate.

Universal UClick president Lee Salem said he wouldn't be surprised if 20 to 30 of the 1,400 newspapers that carry "Doonesbury" 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. Every two or three years there's something that causes a bigger stir. This is probably one of those times," Salem said. "Historically, that's par for the course with 'Doonesbury' because Garry explores topics on comics pages that are not normally there."

Six installments of "Doonesbury" satirizing the anti-abortion movie "The Silent Scream" were canceled in 1985 when the syndicate decided it was too controversial to be distributed.

Other states recently 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 lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."


Associated Press writers Matt Moore in Philadelphia; Mitch Stacy in Tampa Bay, Fla.; and Chris Tomlinson in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

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