‘Scandal’ Tackles Abortion In An Episode That Draws Sharp Criticism And Legendary Praise

If you’re a fan of Scandal on ABC, Shonda Rhimes political thriller took you to a more controversial zone than normal by tackling abortion and Planned Parenthood in a powerful television moment. There might be some very spoiler-laden details ahead, so be warned now until you watch the episode or decide to never watch the show in the future. That should cover all the bases.

In the episode titled Silent Night, the mid-season finale of the show that aired on Thursday, Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope underwent an abortion against the backdrop of a filibuster on the floor of the Senate to block Planned Parenthood becoming part of the discretionary budget. All big deals, especially in Shondaland or whatever they call network television these days.

Planned Parenthood sent Mashable a statement that praised the show for its stance, echoing what many had been saying online in regards to the subject matter and the way the show handled both:

Tonight, the millions of people who tune into Scandal every Thursday night learned that our rights to reproductive health care are under attack,” the non-profit said. “Never one to shy away from critical issues, [showrunner] Shonda Rhimes used her platform to tell the world that if Planned Parenthood lost funding for contraception counseling, STI testing, cancer screenings, and safe, legal abortion — millions of people would suffer. And this episode wasn’t the first time one of Rhimes’ characters had an abortion, yet tonight we saw one of our favorite characters make the deeply personal decision that one in three women have made in their lifetime. We applaud Shonda Rhimes tonight — and every Thursday night – for proving that when women are telling our stories, the world will pause and watch. We just hope those in Congress — and throughout the nation — who are steadfast on rolling the clock back on reproductive health care access are taking note.

Of course, there were many who didn’t feel the same way. Some on Twitter vowed to stop watching the show or managed to cry foul about the nature of the scene itself. Even pundits got involved a bit, with Rush Limbaugh letting everybody know his thoughts on the matter via his radio show:

Yup, she has an abortion, and it’s glorified, it’s celebrated, it’s heralded,” he said on his show. “She has an abortion smiling. It’s appealing to Planned Parenthood, it’s a tribute to Planned Parenthood, I mean it’s just sickening apparently. And she has an abortion, and laying on the table with the actual abortion taking — and camera shots showing you what it would look like as the doctor’s making the move from behind her head [hums “Silent Night”] — there’s a couple other things added to it, apparently it’s just sickening.

And even better, the Media Research Center’s Newsbusters devoted an entire blog post to calling out the episode for its “stomach churning” finale:

[The] absolute worst scene was a montage set to the Christmas hymn “Silent Night,” a song that celebrates the birth of Christ, while main character Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) has an abortion, killing her and the president’s baby.

Between the execution of a man that opens the graphic clip below, the talk of “soft tissue,” saying family destroys you, watching a doctor take his instruments between Olivia’s legs, and the hint of a smile on her lips at the end, it is a truly vile scene, stomach churning scene.

It’s pretty harsh to say, but the MRC may speak for a part of the population that seems to agree with them (just not in such an extreme way). But that doesn’t mean every voice is split off on ideological sides, digging in for their respective debate. There are some voices that have always focused on discussing “reality” and keeping art as a mature form of expression that should challenge and shine a light on society.

I’m talking, of course, about Norman Lear. The TV legend let his thoughts on the episode fly to Variety, looking back on a similar situation he went through with Maude and praising the show:

Legendary producer Norman Lear had high praise for the latest “Scandal” episode in which Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) has an abortion, calling it an “adult moment, and it was nothing more or less.”

“And it was so well done. It is a helluva show,” Lear told Variety…

While there has been harsh criticism coming from the religious right over the “Scandal” episode, advertisers didn’t pull their spots and the network didn’t apologize. He called creator Shonda Rhimes brilliant” and Washington a “sensational actress.”

Asked whether there were still any issues, like abortion, that are the third rail for primetime TV, Lear suggested that the reaction was telling. If the response to criticism is, “You have the right to feel that way, bless you, but we’re moving on,” he says, “it’s a further sign we’re growing up.”

Lear added that many folks didn’t get vocal about his Maude episode that dealt with abortion until it was re-aired later in the season. By that point, people were attempting to lie down in front of his car and cause a disturbance. As he puts it before that, “America just swallowed it.”

(Via Mediaite / Variety)