In These Times interview: Abortion Rights comic
Can’t Make a Decision, Ladies? Call Bill Napoli.
by Mikhaela B. Reid
If anti-abortion politicians are so sure they can tell women what to do with their bodies, why not make them deal with the rest of women’s decisions? That was the premise of political cartoonist Stephanie McMillan’s response to South Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli’s comments that he could see an exception to the state’s near-total abortion ban for a raped and “brutalized” religious virgin, but not for “simple rape.”
In McMillan’s cartoon, a young man asks his sister Kranti which salad dressing she would like, to which she responds that as a woman, she can’t make a decision without calling Bill Napoli at home or at work. The cartoon contains the relevant phone numbers.
According to the Rapid City Journal, Napoli received a “flood” of calls, which he claimed were mostly “intolerable filth.”
McMillan, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a “self syndicated” cartoonist: while she recently put out her first cartoon collection, Minimum Security, she says that her work is primarily published in magazines aimed at “radicals and dissenters.” But the “Call Bill” cartoon, published on her Web site, went viral with the help of supportive blogs and e-mails.
The cartoon generated so many positive responses that McMillan decided to auction it off on eBay and donate the proceeds to help keep abortion safe and legal in South Dakota. The bidding started at 99 cents, but by the time the auction closed on April 5, it had jumped to $2,201. McMillan is splitting the proceeds evenly between Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Oglala Sioux President Cecilia Fire Thunder recently confirmed plans to build a women’s reproductive health clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where the South Dakota state government has no jurisdiction.
What inspired you to draw the Bill Napoli cartoon?
When I read about the South Dakota ban on abortion being passed, I knew I had to address the topic. I read commentary by Molly Ivins about politicians like Bill Napoli thinking they should make decisions for women, and so I decided to make it about him.
What made you decide to include his work and home phone numbers in the cartoon?
I was almost done with the cartoon before I thought to put them in. In fact I had to white-out some of what I already wrote, in order to add them. Once the thought occurred to me, and I found his numbers on the Web site of the South Dakota legislature, there wasn’t any question–I had to do it.
Have you ever gotten such large reaction to a cartoon?
I’ve never had one of my cartoons go viral like this before. I’ve received hundreds of supportive and encouraging responses. They show me that the cartoon really tapped into a deep well of anger throughout society against attempts to ban abortion, and against Napoli in particular. His recent comments about rape are so offensive that many people are appalled that someone like him is attempting to control women’s lives.
I also received a few negative comments. One guy called me a bitch.
Why salad dressing in particular?
It could have been any trivial thing, really. I often draw my characters together at the table eating, and since Kranti [the woman pictured] only eats food that’s healthy and vegan, there were limited options.
How would you respond to his complaint that many of the phone calls he received were profane or obscene?
After his creepy detailed description of rape, I suspect that his sensibilities are not very delicate–he can probably handle rough language. His righteous indignation sounds like a put-on.
What’s really obscene is his effort to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, even if they’re victims of rape or incest, even at the risk of their health, regardless of their desires or circumstances.
Did you call Bill Napoli yourself?
No, I haven’t wanted to talk to him. The funniest [question] that someone told me she asked was: “Tampons or pads?” Another one asked him if it mattered that her bra matched her underwear.
Cartoonist Ted Rall has commented that you’re much more of a political activist than a lot of cartoonists–while we’re sitting behind our drawing boards, quietly commenting from the sidelines, you’re out on the street demonstrating and getting arrested.
I’ve been involved since high school in groups that have been against war, imperialism, police brutality, [and] for immigrant rights and reproductive freedom. I’ve participated in defending abortion clinics from Operation Rescue, marched at Krome Detention Center in Miami against the detainment of Haitian refugees, got arrested protesting Star Wars in Washington D.C. Actually over the course of 20 years, I’ve been to more demonstrations than I can remember, as well as put up countless posters and leaflets. I still participate when I can, though I’m too busy to be any kind of organizer. There’s a weekly anti-war vigil nearby that I attend sometimes. I’m astonished and wildly pleased that even in South Florida, the anti-war/social justice movement is blossoming–to the point that there’s too many events to go to all of them! It’s great to see people awake and active.
Prints of the “Call Bill” cartoon as well as McMillan’s new book, Minimum Security, are available online at minimumsecurity.net.