Cartoonist Garry Trudeau defends controversial Doonesbury abortion strip

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Cartoonist Garry Trudeau has been drawing his liberal cartoon strip Doonesbury for over forty years now, providing social and political commentary with his signature brand of wry humor. Next week, in response to a Texas abortion law he describes as "lunacy," Trudeau will be tackling a controversial law that requires doctors to perform pre-abortion sonograms in hopes of getting women to reconsider their decision. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed a similar bill into law on Wednesday.

The upcoming strip deals with a woman seeking an abortion at a Texas clinic who is forced to get a sonogram. In one scene, a doctor reads a script on behalf of Governor Rick Perry welcoming her to a "compulsory transvaginal exam." In another, a legislator calls the woman a "slut." And another frame has the same doctor saying, "By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape." Trudeau equates the invasive procedure to rape, referring to the ultrasound device as a "10-inch shaming wand." In a Washington Post interview, Trudeau said, "The World Health Organization defines rape as 'physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration — even if slight — of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.' You tell me the difference."

Newspapers have been debating whether to run the strip, taking into account "taste" and "family paper" considerations. Some papers will direct readers online, some will run Doonesbury "flashback" strips, and some will simply move the cartoon to the editorial page. At least two papers have decided not to print the cartoons: The Oregonian (which is ironic considering how liberal Portland is) and Minnesota's St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

Referring to Republicans, Trudeau said, via email, that the "party of limited government" has legislated "onerous preconditions for a perfectly legal procedure." "This is happening in statehouses across the country," he said. "It's lunacy, and lunacy, of course, is in my wheelhouse." He later said that ignoring the highly-charged abortion debate would be "comedy malpractice."

This is the first time in his long career that Trudeau has directly addressed the abortion debate. Back in 1985, he and his syndicate decided not to run strips that satirized the anti-abortion movie The Silent Scream. Rick Perry's press secretary, Catherine Frazier, spoke for many conservatives when she said, "The decision to end a life isn't funny. 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."