The Supreme Court made its Roe v. Wade decision more than 40 years ago. But abortion is still heavily stigmatized. When a character on TV (or in a movie, or in a book) has an abortion, it's immediately newsworthy. Even though a lot of American women undergo abortions — some people believe the figure could be as high as one in three — it's a contentious topic, even for fictional characters.
So when Scandal's Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) had an abortion in the show's fifth-season winter finale, not everyone was happy. Many people praised the episode, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards. Others criticized the fact that Scandal used "Silent Night" as the background music for Olivia's abortion. But it looks like anti-abortion activists weren't the only ones who didn't like the scene. Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes — who recently joined Planned Parenthood's national board — and star Bellamy Young revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that ABC was hesitant to air the clip.
"I remember we showed up for the table read the day the filibuster episode was about to air. [ABC's] Standards and Practices wanted to cut Olivia's abortion," Young told THR.
But Rhimes was determined to tell Olivia's story.
"I said,'Go ahead, alter the scene. We'll just have a lot of articles about how you altered the scene,'" Rhimes told THR. "We had done an abortion on a military woman who had been raped earlier on, and we were doing nothing different than we did in that scene — they just didn't like that it was happening to Olivia. It was a Christmas episode, and we played Christmas music."
Back in 2014, Rhimes told Time that female TV characters who become pregnant don't often consider abortion as a potential option. "And [that's] weird and not realistic," she told the magazine.
Scandal presented Olivia's experience in a way that was realistic and not over-dramatized. (The whole scene only accounted for a minute of air time.) The show's audience might not all agree with her decision — but in the end, it's a choice plenty of women make every day. Showing Olivia's abortion was a powerful moment for Scandal, and a welcome addition to the list of TV shows that have addressed abortion in meaningful ways.