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The Northerner

Texas Republicans mandate ‘rape’ for abortion seekers

Aaron Sprinkles, Viewpoint Editor

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Doonesbury has never been my favorite comic strip. But then, I haven’t read the comics in years – and apparently I’ve been missing out on some cutting edge social commentary. As someone who writes polemics in my spare time, I can appreciate the skill (and the guts) it takes to attack serious issues in a short cartoon. Recently the series author Garry Trudeau took on, of all things, state-sponsored rape. More specifically it engaged with Texas law HB-15. The so-called “Sonogram Bill,” which requires women undergoing abortions to be subjected to an internal sonogram; which, if the reader isn’t aware, involves penetration with a “hard, plastic ten inch wand.”

The purpose of the violation is even worse: to force women seeking abortions to view the image of the fetus and listen to its heartbeat, to be followed by a 24-hour waiting period during which conservative lawmakers undoubtedly hope the subject will be pressured to change her mind. The victim can opt out of viewing/hearing the fetus (if they’re even aware of their right to do so, but are nonetheless subjected to the obviously punitive and invasive experience. The moral absolutism that inspired the bill precludes consideration for victims of rape who, upon seeking to terminate their pregnancies, get to experience a perverse second-rape – this time by the state of Texas.

The issue of Doonesbury in question profiles the above in grotesque detail, as the victim is told to fill out her medical forms in the “shaming room” and is welcomed to her “compulsory transvaginal exam.” The tone is sardonic, but the humiliation of the subject successfully conveys the utter tragedy that many women in Texas will come to experience while attempting to exercise their reproductive rights. The hypocrisy that Republican lawmakers in Texas display, legislating rape for those they despise while mouthing anti-government slogans, disappoints my already low opinion of Texas conservatives. Government non-intervention, after all, only applies when business wants to erode safety conditions in the workplace – and apparently doesn’t extend to your genitals. I am almost driven to pity Texas Republicans, given the degree of cognitive dissonance it requires to satisfy both the Evangelicals and the business interests that constitute their base.
The author of HB-15, Rep. Steve Miller, tried to spin the law in House debate as an “informed consent” bill, saying “we want to make sure [those seeking abortions] are fully informed.” Informed, that is, of the ideological premises of conservative reproductive ethics – that fetuses have souls and that “life” (again, with a special religious connotation) begins at conception.
Even with a supermajority in the Texas legislature, Republicans would never get away with doing this explicitly – these ideas are implicit in this cynical attempt to manipulate the emotions of vulnerable women. I have written in the past about the dangers of indulging this kind of religious fundamentalism, specifically in schools, and Rep. Miller exemplifies the pathological desire of religious conservatives to penetrate (pun intended) not only your school but also your bedroom and even your body with their interpretation of Bronze Age morality. The consequence of an absolutist worldview such as this is invariably the domination of everyone else, in this case vulnerable and even traumatized women, who are the victims in this attempt to objectify false theories about the world.

State-sponsored rape is a heavy subject for the funnies, but Trudeau manages to inject a vein of dark humor into a sad state of affairs while maintaining an appropriate level of outrage. Satire has traditionally been one of the most effective literary forms for exposing cruelty, and comedy is an indispensable tool for making fools of unpleasant people. Doonesbury has managed to do both, in an arguably outdated medium, and for that Trudeau deserves praise.

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Texas Republicans mandate ‘rape’ for abortion seekers