The Remarkable Doonesbury Abortion Arc, And How Men Can Be Good Reproductive Rights Allies

As you may have read, about 50 of the 1,400 newspapers that carry Doonesbury have asked to run alternative strips this week while the comic takes on the spate of laws that would require women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds before obtaining abortions. It’s too bad they’re being timid, because the arc as a whole is terrific: ferocious and funny all at once. “Will it hurt?” asks the patient about to undergo the ultrasound. “Well, it’s not comfortable, honey,” the nurse tells her. “But Texas feels you should have thought of that.”

It’s a worthwhile reminder of the standards male creators should set for themselves when trying to write about women’s issues—and frankly, women in general. The fact that Gary Trudeau’s done amazing work over the years with characters like Joanie Caucus, Lacey Davenport, Alex Doonesbury, Kim Rosenthal, and Melissa Wheeler is the reason he can speak with authority on the subject now. The strip has consistently expanded its scope on women’s issues, and I thought it was particularly brave to explore the consequences of Melissa’s command rape, when it could have been interpreted as a pivot away from B.D.’s loss of his leg. Trudeau treated what both Melissa and B.D. were suffering as equally legitimate pain, and he made treating Melissa with respect a major part of B.D.’s recovery, expanding his world in the process. Trudeau isn’t just parachuting in to abortion because the topic is trendy, he’s not the equivalent of an all-dude panel discussing women’s health. He’s a genuine ally, and a powerful one.