‘Scandal’ Gets Political With Abortion, Planned Parenthood Storylines

Shonda Rhimes has never shied away from tackling political storylines, and last night’s “Scandal” lived up to that standard.

The show featured plotlines that tackled the defunding of Planned Parenthood — a hot topic in the current presidential election — as well as abortion, with Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) ending her surprise pregnancy. Frustrated by a bill that would have classified Planned Parenthood as “discretionary spending,” Republican Senator Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) led a 16-hour filibuster on the Senate floor, reading off a laundry list of items that the bill would have kept intact.

“The ‘Scandal’ writers did their research,” Rhimes tweeted during the show. “Every budget item Mellie recites is actually real.”

While Planned Parenthood praised the episode, conservative groups called it “Hollywood’s moral depravity on full display.”

After the episode aired, Planned Parenthood released a statement saying, “Tonight, the millions of people who tune into ‘Scandal’ every Thursday night learned that our rights to reproductive health care are under attack. Never one to shy away from critical issues, 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.”

The conservative group Media Research Center countered with a statement of their own: “Hollywood’s liberal values permeate movies and television. Last night’s episode of ABC’s ‘Scandal’ was pretty much an hour-long advertisement for Planned Parenthood. In the most disturbing scene, the main character has an abortion to ‘Silent Night’ (a hymn celebrating the birth of Jesus) playing in the background.” Rush Limbaugh weighed in, too, calling it “geniunely, literally sickening,”

Sources at ABC tell Variety they were prepared for the attention the show drew, posting a “viewer discretion” disclaimer before the episode. Advertisers were alerted as well, but none were surprised by the content or asked for their ads to be removed. The content rating remained the same as well, since it is already very high for the show.

“As always, there’s discussion: Are you going to alienate viewers?” says an ABC source. “It might be distasteful, but it isn’t so outrageous in the life of this character.” Adds another, “It was all sensitively done. These are incredibly flawed, complex characters. This is who these people are.”

“Scandal” fans — who are famously very vocal on social media — took to Twitter to debate the episode. Some reacted with surprise that Mellie, a conservative senator, would side with Planned Parenthood. (“If you watch the show, you know Shonda’s politics,” counters a show insider.) Others supported with the character, who’s been something of a basket case, for finally stepping up and doing something admirable. As for Olivia, her decision to get an abortion unilaterally, without consulting Fitz — her partner and the baby’s likely father — sparked much conversation, especially since that’s when fans first learned she was even pregnant.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, hailed the episode as groundbreaking. “I think what is so important of what ‘Scandal’ has done is two-fold: One is showing that there are ordinary women in every walk of life, like Kerry Washington’s character, who make decisions for very different reasons, and that they are just part of life,” Hogue told Variety. “And I think the second thing that is significant is about what ‘Scandal’ did was show how not scary an abortion procedure is.

“Like any groundbreaker, what Shonda Rhimes has done with this episode is make it OK for others to have these ordinary conversations in popular culture, and I think the impact of popular culture on public opinion and on taking what are thought of as ‘taboo’ issues and putting them front-and-center and giving permission to talk about them, that is a very significant impact and can’t be overstated.”

The first abortion to take place in primetime television came in November 1972, when a 47-year-old Maude Findlay on the CBS comedy “Maude” found herself unexpectedly pregnant and decided to have the procedure, which was allowed in New York at the time but came two months before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. Later in 1973, Susan Lucci’s character of Erica Kane had television’s first legal abortion.

The networks generally shied away from the controversial subject in primetime for more than 15 years, before a flurry of programs targeting a young, female audience addressed the subject. These include the Canadian series “Degrassi High” in 1989, and the popular Fox drama “Beverly Hills, 90210” in 1994 (Andrea, played by Gabrielle Carteris).

The WB show “Felicity” and “Dawson’s Creek” both tackled the subject in 2000, as did the network’s “Everwood” in 2003. HBO series “Sex and the City” and “Six Feet Under” addressed it in 2001 and 2003 respectively, as did the first episode of “Girls” in 2012.

Other notable television abortions in recent years have occurred on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” in 2009 (Felicity Huffman’s character, Lynette), NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” in 2010 (teen-ager Becky, played by Madison Burge) and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2011 (Sandra Oh’s character, Cristina Yang).

Rick Kissell contributed to this report.

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  1. Esther Coop says:

    As someone who was hurt at Planned Parenthood, I did not like this show making it look like taxpayers need to pay for Planned Parenthood. There are plenty of other places women can get contraception and services at affordable prices. I wish I had known before I went there for an unplanned pregnancy. PP should NOT get tax dollars!

  2. John says:

    I started out liking Scandal when it first came out. Lately I’ve noticed the show simply tracks the latest political pressure points of the day, takes the extreme liberal bent, throws in some obligatory drama, and in the end I feel like I just watched an episode of The View. I am offended by this latest episode, but this has been a long time coming. I am now officially done with that show. To showcase Planned Oatenthood as the nation of wonanhood’s Knight in Shining Armor, without once addressing the horrible “scandal” it truly is with the recently exposed profiteering from the selling of baby parts, truly sickens me. Shane on the show, the actors, Hollywood, and the media for letting it all slide. But of course I’m not surprised. The country’s morals are so corrupted by these and others I just can’t even sleep sometimes. We’ve lost our way as a nation, and this show has lost a viewer for good. Bank on that rating at least!

  3. katspann says:

    I can understand pushing the envelope- but honestly- have we gotten to the place where we have to see infant abortion while listening to Christianities’ favorite infant hymn? I’m afraid all this is just too scandalous for us! We will leave Thursday nights to Shonda Rhimes and her ABC politics.

  4. Well I’m happy I never started this show to begin with … i’m sure “The good wife” will bring up the subject as well .

  5. Chris says:

    Don’t have a problem with Abortion, Don’t have a problem with them having on the show, but WOW, all this talk about acceptance and tolerance must be a lie, because why in the WORLD would you play silent night during the scene, that is so offensive, even to a non-christian like me, the only purpose of that is to be mean in a way to spit in the face of someone who disagrees with you, shame shame shame, respect should be the order of the day, and even when people disagree you should always be respectful in disagreement, this is utter garbage, and I am ashamed to be on that side of the argument, wow!

    • Sierra says:

      Agree. That seems to be the way these days. Rather than just state their view, they have to do it by disrespecting others. They do it to provoke a reaction so when you call them on it, they can call you intolerant etc. etc. Shonda Rhimes goes for the shock hence the abortion out of the blue and the use of that music. I think she did it at the expense of the story and the show. There was nothing to make anyone feel sympathetic towards Olivia.

  6. Brooke Doris says:

    Good on you, ABC. One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. It is nothing to be ashamed of and should be incorporated into women’s storylines.

  7. Drew Curlee says:

    My message to Disney ABC Domestic Television, owned by the Walt Disney Company and American Broadcasting Company: shame on you.

  8. JLucas says:

    Pure filth.

  9. Olympia says:

    A choice that affects another life’s body (& not just the woman’s body) is so much more than just a choice. It is choosing to end the life of your own baby (for whatever reasons) when he or she is at the most vulnerable stage. Choose life instead of murder. I will never condone any woman deciding to kill an innocent, precious, tiny, new LIFE for any reason. Life is a beautiful blessing that should be protected, loved, and respected. Olivia should have felt grateful to be pregnant instead of selfishly making a choice about a baby that also belonged to Fitz. They created that life together and together they should have discussed the situation. Abortion is one of the worst things a female can do. Pro-Life! That is MY opinion.

  10. Without abortion, what would teenage girls do if they become pregnant and find out that they will not fit in the dress that they want to wear to the prom?

  11. Paul says:

    you peddle something so appalling?

  12. Catherine says:

    I too was appalled by this episode and will no longer be watching. Nothing in it made sense from the Republican Senator Mellie’s filibuster to save funding for Planned Parenthood to the Liv’s abortion and break up with Fitz to Huck letting Rowan go and Jake going into Rowan’s home at the end with him. Shonda shocks just to shock without it making any sense. After a dreadful seaon 4 and then last night’s horrible episode, I am done.

    Viewers got hooked by the love story between Liv and Fitz. Now it feels like it was all a lie. It is sad that it ended like this. Liv, selfishly and heartlessly aborted the child of the man she is supposed to love. A man who told her that he wanted to have babies with her. It was cold and an unforgivable betrayal. Fitz has forgiven so much that this woman has done but if he were to forgive this, then he would just be a fool and I don’t want to watch that. Liv then blamed Fitz saying that she told him they couldn’t survive their relationship being public but she was the one who made it public. Fitz deserves so much better than this woman. Remember this is the same woman who ran off with another man, at the lowest point in his life as he was dealing with the death of his son. I think she also had professional obligations to him too when she ran off. She then betrayed Fitz again by releasing from jail the men who killed his son and her friend. But then she also got involved with Jake who murdered her other friend. It is hard to watch a show when you hate the main character and feel that you were misled into believing they were meant to be. This show has completely gone off the rails and I’m out.

  13. Alex says:

    Good, ALL liberals should abort the filthy vile future commie inside them. This show may lose viewers BUT, it’ll likely win an EMMY.

  14. Sarah says:

    In fact the storyline referenced in this article on Desperate Housewives in 2009 regarding Felicity Huffman’s character, Lynette, did not see her go ahead with the abortion. Like most other TV dramas do when tackling the topic, the character was eventually talked into reconsidering her decision and ended up having the baby.

  15. Denise says:

    Not judging anyone who had an abortion. I even THOUGHT OF having one myself. I instead chose to be a teenage mom, the first time and an abandoned fiance the second. They are doing lovely. My issue with this episode was the convenience in which she had the abortion. HER convenience. No consideration to the spirit and the heartbeat that lay inside of her. No consideration to the man who she loved and who loved her. THAT is why I’m not watching Scandal anymore. Morals and unselfishness has gone down the drain to “woman’s rights”. Abortion IS NOT a contraceptive.

    • Donna says:

      Thank you, Denise, that’s the point that most of us who are actually pro choice are making. This episode did absolutely no favors to anyone who is pro choice. It treated abortion as a stupid plot device in an absolutely inconsiderate, superficial and completely unrealistic manner. What woman runs around in heels and drinks right after having an abortion? And sits on a new couch she’s ordered because hey no big deal I just had an abortion, it’s like drinking a glass of water, let me order a new couch and sit on it in such a position. The woman would be wearing gigantic pads because she would be bleeding. And she would be in BED right after an abortion, and nowhere near any alcohol. Instead, Olivia is merrily bouncing around in heels and drinking, as if nothing was.

      The superficial, ignorant and inconsiderate manner in which this was written is a slap in the face to everyone of us who is pro choice, making us look like selfish, ignorant, superficial women who you know don’t even have the same body as every other woman who has an abortion, because hey no bleeding, no pain, we even drink alcohol right after an abortion when we’re on strong pain killers. No wait we probably don’t even take those, numb to any physical reaction? What idiocy was this? How is no one calling out the absolute ridiculousness of this part? And by the way, how was Olivia ever pregnant in the first place when she spent every single episode drinking whiskey and bourbon with Fitz? Every.single.episode. Was she trying to cause a miscarriage by drinking like a fish while knowing she was pregnant? But no journalist is calling out any of this, because they’re too preoccupied with kissing up to Disney to actually watch and know what’s going on that doesn’t make the slightest sense. They even dared publish Shonda’s tweet where she said the writers did their research: they never do, for anything, and if they did, they would know they cannot have a Republican senator stand up for Planned Parenthood because that does.not.happen, and there’s no going around it. This article tackles this issue as in “oh well they said these are Shonda’s politics.” AND??? Still doesn’t justify having a Republican Senator say certain things, it cannot and doesn’t happen!

      This, without considering Olivia has a man who loves her deeply and adores her and who was the father of her baby, and she didn’t even have the human decency and courtesy to inform him she was pregnant and didn’t want to keep the child? I am quite surprised that Variety would post an article like this, that is clearly trying to make it look like this was no big deal and the fans just ate up the absurdities the plot served without reacting much. Next time, do your research better. Fans of the show are in revolt against this episode. Fans of the show, not crazy pro life extremists. The backlash is so severe, that ABC has everyone writing these articles up (don’t even try to convince me this article is even vaguely factual, the few facts it spews? Are inaccurate ,and are immediately countered with Disney’s PR spin, without any report on the actual opinion of fans who have butchered this episode and who have been extremely vocal on how bad it was. I’m talking merely about the way plot was executed, not anything else. Plot, the fans are sick and tired of Olivia and FItz being mistreated and abused. And the basic completely unrealistic way in which an abortion was handled hasn’t been tackled by a single outlet, because guess what? All men those who write these stories, so they don’t even have a slight idea about it. I find it so insulting that men and men only are writing about this and showing a complete lack of knowledge and empathy for the matter.

      This plot was conceived for one purpose only: to as usual prop up the white woman who laughably as a Republican stood up for Planned Parenthood (please miss us with this ridiculous plot points, and FItz can’t be a Republican either, and how no one in press ever calls Shonda Rhimes out for this stupid and instead they spend their time dancing around stuff and kissing up to her, is beyond me) and to make the black lead look like a superficial, stupid mess who always makes the negative decisions.

      I’m appalled at how equally superficially this is being written about. I guess I shouldn’t be, because we all know everyone kisses up to Shonda Rhimes, and yet she is one of the evidently least talented writers in Hollywood. All of her plots are copied, and recycled even from her own shows, every single one of them. Scandal in particular is outrageous in the way it has copied from other shows. Every single one of Shonda Rhimes’s shows is about a woman sleeping with a married man or committing adultery. EVERY single one of them. And not a single journalist points that out. It’s laughable at this point. Does the press really think we are all stupid and we can’t see what actually goes on?

  16. just say no to progs says:

    This show jumped the shark last season, but I held on, hoping there would be some kind of redemption this season, but NO, now the show has not only jumped the shark, it has been eaten by progressive ideology. Buh Bye…I will not watch any Rhimes show from here on out. This show really should have ended by now.

  17. Anne B. Riordan says:

    I am appalled that in an episode that promotes Planned Parenthood and shows Olivia having an abortion that the “Ava Maria” would be sung and played. The “Ava Marie” is one of the most sacred of Catholic hymns. How dare you associate them together.

    • Michael Dearing says:

      How dare they? How dare you judge others? That’s gods job. How date you rail against abortion, while millions of children die a year of starvation. How date the right wing rail against Syrians, where tens of thousands face starvation. How dare you worry about a song, before people. Yes, you want all those children born. But once they are, you cheer tax cuts that provides for those children.

      The right wing us following what the US did in WWII, against the Jews. Read history, especiallyabout the ship we turned away and hundreds died.

      I’ve read the bible. AND I KNOW JESUS WOULD CARE MIRE ABOUT HOW YOU TREAT OTHETS, RATHER THSN SOME SONG.

      • Gomez says:

        The right wing us following what the US did in WWII, against the Jews. Read history, especiallyabout the ship we turned away and hundreds died.

        LOL you’re confusing your talking points, moron. Read history – from a lib. You’re embarrassing. Educate yourself.

      • Are YOU not being judgmental?

      • Denise says:

        What you said about judging being God’s job was TOTALLY contradictory! Isn’t it also God’s job to say who lives and who doesn’t upon being conceived!?Conception is a MIRACLE that a lot of women don’t have to opportunity to experience. The responsibility in preconception lies in the hands of EACH woman who chooses her actions before conception (except rape, I know, but even some of those ladies have given birth). Mankind is going to answer to God for killing millions of babies. Their blood STILL cries out for justice from the rivers and the oceans that circle the globe nonstop.

      • Crosscut says:

        Michael Dearing – If you don’t understand the justified outrage of this pathetic, desperate scene, YOU are as big a part of the problem as the show’s creator, who is obviously running out of good ideas and is grasping at straws to retain her shrinking audience. This show was beyond pathetic and will certainly lose viewers for ABC.

  18. Shonda Rhimes is too amazing. Way to use your power and platform to reach millions with a very important message.

  19. Benninghoff says:

    I don’t watch this show. My wife does…er, did. She turned it off midway and said it had gotten to the point where it’s just “pure filth.” Good job, ABC.

    • Addie says:

      So your wife didn’t have a problem with the in your face adultery, but took exception to the abortion – and only then did she think it filthy?

      • Benninghoff says:

        Actually, she doesn’t watch any of Rhimes’ shows anymore. She started years ago watching Greys Anatomy and gave some of the other Rhimes’ shows a chance. Now she thinks, as many others do apparently, that now Rhimes is a desperate hack who just goes for shock value rather than good storytelling. I don’t watch any of that stuff, but I think ABC is an embarrassment to broadcasting for showing an abortion while playing Christmas music. But, apparently, you seem cool with that. How progressive (and stupid) of you.

      • What adultery are you writing about?

  20. Brenda G. says:

    This, an abortion played to “Silent Night,” is the most disgusting example of
    TV” in years. Absolutely pathetic. I know Shondra is getting desperate, with all her gay story lines losing millions of viewers, but this disgusting scene has done it for me. I am not watching anymore of her crap ever again. I’m done. Sick, perverse crap. ABC is an embarrassment to TV.

    • Michael Dearing says:

      Losing millions of viewers? Er, check your stats again. And all shows have shed some viewers. Its the nature of now.

      You must be one great friend and neighbor. So judgemental. Its as if you only want it your way. Hmmm…..reminds me of those violent groups in the middle east. Abortion? You’re stoned. Gay? Your thrown from the highest building and if notkilled, your beaten to death. YeoYep, a perfect neighborhood for you. Your perfect world doesn’t even fit within the constitution.

      • Elisabeth B says:

        That episode was sick and sickening. Trying to defend abortion while Christmas music plays is indefensible. Had that been a homosexual being killed instead of an innocent baby, the screaming from West Hollywood and Wilshire would have extended from California to the White House and Obama would have stepped in. IT WA S A SICKENING SCENE. Women should be outraged at a show that promotes women killing their babies.

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