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Local Papers Mull Using Doonesbury Abortion Law Strips

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Updated 3/9 – 8:02 p.m.

NORTH TEXAS (AP/CBSDFW) – 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.”

The new state 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.

CBS 11 contacted the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram to see what they would be doing.

Morning News editor Bob Mong said in an email his paper will run the comic.  “Our readers are smart and can make up their own minds about what they think,” he said.  “Each of our comics has its own devoted following.”

Star-Telegram editor Lois Norder says their newsroom is still in discussion over the series.

The Morning News carries the strip in their comics section.  The Star-Telegram runs it in the Opinion section, along with political cartoon Mallard Fillmore.

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.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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