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Open Letter to The Tennessean on Doonesbury’s Week of Abortion Strips

March 15, 2012

Here’s my note to the local Nashville, TN newspaper, The Tennessean, which decided not to run this week’s Doonesbury strips that focus on forced ultrasound for abortion. I’m sending a copy via email in addition to posting here.


I am writing to express my disappointment that you chose not to publish this week’s Doonesbury strips in the print edition of the paper. You explained that the Wednesday strip was not published due to “graphic wording,” but it is baffling as to what the supposedly offensively graphic word might have been. I can only assume it was “transvaginal,” but The Tennessean has previously permitted this word in at least three previous articles, including a recent one on papers electing not to carry the strip.

Tuesday’s installment, in which a woman is called a “slut,” was obviously not too provocative to carry in print, yet the proper name of a medical procedure being forced upon women seeking abortion apparently offended your sensibilities. It’s okay to call women seeking abortion disparaging names, but it’s not okay to mention their vaginas?

Doonesbury is meant to be provocative, political, and satirical, something you surely realize in carrying the strip. Many papers place it in the opinion section for this very reason. There is an argument to be made, I think, about not carrying Thursday’s strip in the comics sections, given the concluding line about rape. Many people believe that rape should never be a punchline. There is legitimate debate to be had about whether its use in this instance is inappropriately meant to be “funny” or is simply a reflection many women’s expressed perspective – that being forced to have an object inserted in one’s vagina for non-medical purposes to serve the agendas of anti-abortion politicians is indeed a form of rape or assault.

The Tennessean did not choose to run the strip and allow it to foster debate about this question or questions of abortion, politics, or the ethics of forced ultrasound. Instead, The Tennessean decided it was important to protect print readers from being exposed to medical terminology and a real rights issue facing women who choose to terminate pregnancies. When our local newspaper is deciding that its readers can’t handle the subject of a national debate, concerning itself more perhaps with advertisers sharing space with even slightly provocative content, and determining that “slut” is okay but “transvaginal” is not, it simply reinforces the perception that real Tennesseans are not being served by the newspaper sharing their name.


You can see the strips over at Slate, write your paper with thanks if they’re carrying it or complaints if they’re not. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which has been fighting the Texas forced ultrasound law, is asking people to sign a letter of thanks to papers that are carrying the strip, and to let them know about papers that aren’t.

I also have a post on the Doonesbury controversy over at the Our Bodies Ourselves blog.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jim Pannell permalink
    March 16, 2012 9:18 pm

    This is an excellent piece of commentary by a WOMAN, not a middle aged or elderly elected official who has never been faced with the discision of whether or not to have an abortion! Thank you Rachel for your very insightful viewpoint.

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