Des Moines Register to publish Doonesbury strips in Sunday opinion

Following up on this post: Des Moines Register Editor Rick Green has announced that the newspaper will publish all of this week’s Doonesbury comic strips in the Sunday Register Opinion section. The paper will also run commentary for and against the Texas ultrasound law, the target of Garry Trudeau’s ridicule.

Many newspapers across the country opted not to publish this week’s Doonesbury series. On Monday the comic showed a receptionist at an abortion clinic sending a patient to a "shaming room" to fill out forms on a clipboard marked with a scarlet "A." Tuesday’s installment featured a Texas legislator calling her a "slut." On Wednesday a doctor was shown reading the patient a prepared statement prior to her "compulsory transvaginal exam." Today’s comic shows the doctor explaining, "The male Republicans who run Texas require that all such [first-trimester] abortion-seekers be examined with a 10" shaming wand." The doctor then announces that he will "rape" the patient "by the authority vested in me by the GOP base."

Green asserted in an earlier note to Register readers that “the series oversteps the boundaries of good taste,” and that the ” family-focused Iowa Life comics section” was “not the place to explore such an objectionable topic.”  

I wasn’t the only Register subscriber disappointed by the decision to withhold the cartoons from readers rather than run them elsewhere in the newspaper. Excerpt from Green’s blog post late on Tuesday:

Predictably, I’ve heard from many readers. Some applauded the move, saying the last thing they want to do is explain Trudeau’s scenes to unsuspecting pre-teens. Those panels, by the way, feature a woman being called an offensive name, discussion of contraceptives, vaginal sonograms and fetuses and the portrayal of a 10-inch wand as essentially an instrument of rape.

Others said I was censoring the news and being too protective of our readers. Some said I was caving in to pressures from conservative groups that supported the law. One very nice reader even offered to help me pack and move to Texas. […]

I was not expecting to hear from so many readers – on both sides of my decision. If we had enough time to weigh our options Friday (and if Opinion Page Editor Randy Evans, who was out last week, and I had a chance to consult) we likely would have published the daily strips on our editorial pages.

That is where it belongs.

So, here’s what we are doing: On Sunday, March 18, we are publishing all six Doonesbury panels on the letters page of our Sunday Register Opinion section. We also will have a critic of the Texas law explain his/her opposition in a column. We will have a supporter of the legislation do the same. We are attempting to reach Texas Rep. Sid Miller and state Sen. Dan Patrick, the sponsors of the abortion sonogram bill, to share their thoughts, as well.

We also will publish several letters related to my decision, the Texas law and the cartoonist’s viewpoints.

That sounds like a reasonable compromise. Some newspapers run Doonesbury on the opinion page as standard practice, while others have moved the comic strip there occasionally, such as during the Watergate hearings.

Republicans introduced several anti-abortion bills this year in the Iowa House and Senate, but none have moved forward. In February I heard some chatter about an ultrasound bill, but it never came out of any Iowa House committee. GOP leaders made clear from the opening day of the 2012 legislative session that social issues would not be their priority. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen explained in early January, “We’re not afraid to address those issues, but we’re also not interested in squandering Iowans’ time.”

I expect several anti-abortion measures will move forward next year if Republicans hold their Iowa House majority and win back the state Senate. A late-term abortion ban is virtually certain to pass, and some sort of ultrasound requirement seems to have substantial support among Republicans. The GOP caucus is divided on whether to make a broader statement by passing “personhood” legislation or a blanket ban on “feticide.”

One disturbing innovation in the anti-abortion legislative movement has appeared this year in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kansas. In those states Republicans have backed laws allowing doctors to withhold information from pregnant patients. The idea is that women shouldn’t be told about medical issues that might prompt them to terminate a pregnancy. I can hardly think of a more insulting “nanny state” concept. Let’s hope Iowans won’t have to fight this battle down the road.

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