'On the Comics page, a difficult topic'

Last modified: 3/12/2012 12:00:00 AM
Here are some words you don't typically read on the Comics page: slut, sonogram, rape, abortion and genitals. You will find them there this week, however, and I wanted to give readers - particularly readers who share the Monitor's Comics page with small children - a head's up.

Garry Trudeau, who draws the Doonesbury comic strip, will take on the issue of abortion in six strips, starting this morning. His inspiration was legislation in Virginia and Texas that requires women seeking abortions to first receive compulsory sonograms. Without spoiling the storyline for you, I can tell you that a woman goes to a medical office in Texas and is forced to receive such an invasive procedure - guided through the process by a Republican state lawmaker. Before the sonogram, the woman is asked to sit in the "shaming room."

Trudeau is clearly appalled by the real-life legislation on this topic. Here's how he described his decision to pursue such a hot-button issue in an interview with the Washington Post:

"I chose the topic of compulsory sonograms because it was in the news and because of its relevance to the broader battle over women's health currently being waged in several states," he said. "For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago. Why (Rick) Santorum, (Rush) Limbaugh et al. thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate, I cannot say. But to ignore it would have been comedy malpractice."

Already, newspaper editors in Oregon, Florida, Indiana and beyond have decided not to publish these comic strips. I had a chance to read them last week and decided to make them available to Monitor readers, despite the rough content.

Here's my thinking: Regular readers of Doonesbury know well that Trudeau's strip is always social satire. He takes on controversies in the news, always with a sharp point of view. In recent months, Doonesbury has tackled the war in Afghanistan, the Massachusetts Senate race, even a tell-all book about Sarah Palin. After 40 years in American newspapers, Doonesbury has cultivated legions of fans who eagerly await the morning installment and anticipate Trudeau's attempt to shake things up. Doonesbury haters, for their part, are already accustomed to skipping right over it on their way to Dilbert and Dear Abby.

Abortion, birth control, ovarian cysts and even "transvaginal sonograms" - a phrase so unfamiliar until now that spell-check insists it's a typo - have all been in the news lately. The content of the front page has become unusually clinical and unusually frank because of the political debates not only in far-flung states and Washington, D.C., but also right here in New Hampshire. The language is not gratuitous but necessary to appreciate the scope of the issue. And surely commentary on the issue of abortion, even in the unusual form of a comic strip, is timely in Concord.

Our general impulse is to publish rather than hide controversial material from readers. This week's Doonesbury strips may make you wince - but they will also make you think.

I encourage you to read the series and, as always, let us know what you thought.

(Felice Belman can be reached at 369-3370 or fbelman@cmonitor.com. An earlier version of this column appeared on Belman's "Report to Readers" blog. For more, go to concordmonitor.com/report-to-readers.)


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