In her ever-folksy and acerbic style, Ivins used her columns to point out how the Bush administration, in the name of national security and patriotism, has infringed on Americans' valued constitutional rights and usurped excessive power. In a July 2005 column, she wrote: "We suffer the worst attack on this country since Pearl Harbor, and the Bush administration sends the FBI after the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU exists to protect every citizen's rights as defined in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States. The ACLU works solely through the legal system: It does not advocate violence, terrorism or any other damn thing except the Bill of Rights. Since when is that extremist? … We are living in a time when our government is investigating an organization that stands for the highest and best American ideals."
Ivins was born in Monterey, California, and raised in Houston, Texas. After a high school career active in extracurricular activities, including yearbook staff, journalism on the school newspaper, The Review, and the drama club, she earned her B.A. at Smith College, and a master's degree at Columbia University's school of journalism. She also studied at the Institute of Political Science in Paris for a year.
Her first newspaper job was in the complaint department of the Houston Chronicle, followed by the position of, as she put it, "sewer editor," responsible for reporting on the nuts-&-bolts of local city life. Over the years, Ivins worked at the Minneapolis Tribune, the Texas Observer, and The New York Times. Her colorful style clashed with Times expectations, and in 1982, after she called a "community chicken-killing festival" a "gang-pluck," she was dismissed.
From 1982, she wrote for the Dallas Times Herald and then for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram until 2001, when she became an independent journalist. Her column, distributed by Creators Syndicate at the end of her life, appeared in nearly 400 papers nationwide.
Ivins died of breast cancer at her Austin, Texas, home in hospice care on January 31, 2007, at age 62.