Scandal Shows an Abortion: Inside the Shocking, Controversial Episode

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Scandal’s’ Tony Goldwyn on Abortion Storyline, Fitz and Olivia’s Future.

ABC’s “Scandal” is coming under fire over a scene that seemingly featured the show’s main character undergoing an abortion, as the popular Christmas hymn “Silent Night” played in the background. Thursday’s Scandal included the most realistic depiction of an abortion in TV history. (Praise Shonda!) Forty-three years after Maude, why is this still so controversial? “Controversial,” sadly, is still the most apropos word to describe an abortion scene in an episode of a television series that draws exponentially more eyeballs than the news each week, and which stars Kerry Washington as one of the strongest, most gloriously complex characters of color in TV history.The controversy over Planned Parenthood may have cooled down in Congress, but that didn’t stop the issue from heating up Thursday night on ABC’s hit show “Scandal.” During Thursday’s midseason finale, Republican Sen.The Ohio House of Representatives Tuesday voted to reroute federal money to any federally-approved health clinics which do not perform abortions or associate through contract with any which perform abortions, including Planned Parenthood.

ABC’s Scandal created one of its own Thursday (spoilers follow) with an instantly controversial episode that tackled Planned Parenthood defunding while featuring the drama’s lead character getting an abortion to the tune of “Silent Night.” Cheered by Planned Parenthood as a bold prime-time statement while simultaneously slammed by the conservative Media Research Center as showing “Hollywood’s moral depravity on full display,” the episode featured Republican senator Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) filibustering a bill that would have made Planned Parenthood funding a discretionary item.Scandal’s midseason finale floored viewers when Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) and Olivia (Kerry Washington) not only broke up, but Olivia got an abortion — something that surprised even the cast during the episode’s table read. “You can imagine we were all pretty shocked,” co-star Guillermo Diaz told EW editor Henry Goldblatt during The Editors Hour show on Entertainment Weekly Radio. “Usually at the end of table reads, we’re all jumping up and yelling and clapping because the scripts are always so unpredictable and amazing. It was at the midway point in Thursday night’s episode, titled, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” that Olivia Pope, played by actress Kerry Washington, “was escorted into a private medical room and then underwent an apparent abortion,” according to TV Line. “The entire hour was an advertisement for Planned Parenthood, but 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 … has an abortion, killing her and the president’s baby,” Coombs wrote. With bare feet, a full bladder, and a hefty binder full of words, the former first lady and current senator from Virginia staged a 16-hour filibuster over reproductive rights.

The scene was part of Scandal’s aggressively promoted winter finale—it’s not just show creator Shonda Rhimes who wanted you to see this story played out, it was, in a refreshing surprise, ABC, too. The bill, House Bill 294, coordinated the reassignment of nearly $1.3 million in federal and state grants from places such as the “Violence Against Women Act,” the “Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative,” and the “Infertility prevention project” to health clinics meeting stipulations outlined in the bill.

But the best part of the episode came near the end, when (spoiler alert!) one of TV’s most beloved characters gave us an honest look at a positive experience with abortion. In reality, there may be at least two female Republican Senators who stand in support of Planned Parenthood funding: Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. After the episode, Planned Parenthood released this statement: “Tonight, the millions of people who tune into Scandal every Thursday night learned that our rights to reproductive health care are under attack. During the episode, Olivia — already being accepted as the first lady-to-be — is growing tired of being left out of the “big dog” club and instead is left to deliver cookies to a senator’s wife as she has almost devolved to become the president’s arm candy.

It’s right before Christmas and Congress is attempting to pass a new spending bill before Santa comes, everyone leaves for holiday break, and, you know, the government doesn’t shut down. The women’s health organization has come under renewed fire since an anti-abortion group began releasing sting videos this summer that allegedly show Planned Parenthood employees haggling over the price of fetal tissue for medical research. The Senate leaders who made up Grant’s opposition are old white men cackling in Southern accents over glasses of bourbon, telling Grant they’ll pass the damn funding bill whether she likes it or not. Although defunding efforts have been unsuccessful thus far, the organization may be caught in the crosshairs once again when lawmakers debate a wrap-up spending bill this December.

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. She sees through the bureaucratic bull: If Planned Parenthood’s funding is discretionary and not guaranteed by law, the Republican Congress is going to chip away at it until it can no longer exist. Screengrab from GetYourCare.org, showing the 280 health care providers which, if Ohio Governor John Kasich signs the bill, will absorb Planned Parenthood’s federal funding Ohio Governor John Kasich, a candidate in the 2016 presidential race, is expected to sign the bill, which now heads to the Ohio Senate, where it is also expected to pass. When she first takes the Senate floor, Grant tells her peers that she can’t vote for the funding bill and go home for the holidays “at the expense of women’s health.” Later, she calls Planned Parenthood’s services “basic human rights.” Television news pundits don’t get off so easy.

Not surprisingly, the hot-button topics featured on the show enraged conservative groups, which were quick to slam the divisive episode. “Hollywood’s liberal values permeate movies and television. A similar bill passed in the Senate in October 23-10. “I’m not gonna jeopardize anybody’s health, but Planned Parenthood ought to learn that what they were doing was not acceptable,” Kasich said at a campaign event in New Hampshire. “We don’t think [a shortage of health care centers] is a problem, because there are many different entities that can handle this, from our hospitals throughout the state of Ohio to our federal clinics.” The measure passed 62-33 along party lines, with one Democrat, Bill Patmon, voting yea and two Republicans voting nay. Mellie filibusters the bill until the deadline runs out and it can’t pass, using the hours it takes to run down the clock to list off the asinine things that are guaranteed funding under the new bill—fancy urinal cakes, a travel budget for state pageant queens, research on the “hangry” (hungry and angry) condition—while Planned Parenthood remains vulnerable. State Representative Margaret Conditt (R) sponsored the bill, and said she is pleased with the outcome and hopeful for the future of the bill. “We want to encourage research and discussion on how we can improve our infant mortality rate, and we believe state funding should be used for those kinds of programs, rather than programs that support or promote non-therapeutic abortions,” Conditt said. Planned Parenthood so far has responded with social media posts attacking Ohio representatives, which they call “extremists,” especially for their list of providers, which the corporation has called unsatisfactory.

He’s kept her from making her own life decisions since she got to the White House, just like anti-choice politicians purport to know what’s best for pregnant women. Declared Grant, “All of you who stuck with me to the bitter end should be proud because of your sacrifice, millions of women across this nation get to enjoy their holidays without having to worry if they will have access to proper care in the coming year.” As for Olivia’s abortion, fans didn’t realize she was pregnant until Thursday’s episode.

Kudos to showrunner Shonda Rhimes for giving viewers an affirming depiction of a woman who gets an abortion because it’s the right decision for her in that moment, without any fanfare or hackneyed drama. Not anymore.” The now-former couple agrees that they rushed into things and weren’t ready (“we tried,” they say) and that they were “broken” going into this. THR turned to Goldwyn to break down the revealing episode and preview what to expect when the Shonda Rhimes drama returns Feb. 11 from its winter hiatus.

Sometimes it’s more difficult since the show is often from Olivia’s point of view so I do have to ask Shonda questions in terms of what she has in mind for Fitz. And when a character does have an abortion, it’s because she fears she is not equipped to raise the child. (Friday Night Lights did this with great nuance with the character of Becky.) A 2012 episode of Girls probably contained the most plainspoken discussion of a procedure that, according to statistics, nearly 3 in 10 women have by the time they’re 45, but that pop culture almost blanket-ignores. Using the word “abortion” 11 times, compared to, for example, the three times it’s used when Miranda considers it in an infamous episode of Sex and the City, it was as if the show was attempting to desensitize the word.

Shonda Rhimes discussed both topics—pop culture’s confusing erasure of abortion from its TV shows and the reason Olivia is at peace with her decision—in a 2014 interview with TIME. She’s like, “Hey, people, I’m putting this on television because this is what is happening in our lives.” Shonda doesn’t make polemic arguments; she’s not sending messages. The episode, airing four years ago, was also obviously controversial, but, in her interview, Rhimes seemed nonplussed, calling the omission of such a storyline on television “weird and unrealistic.” And it’s realism that is the source of the so-called controversy this time. The scene in which Olivia has the abortion is interspersed with a scene in which her father, quite poetically, delivers a monologue on family: “Family doesn’t complete you. But that dream shattered is part one, and part two is the colossal lie and betrayal and withholding of that terrible truth that Olivia didn’t tell him.

It destroys you.” More, to heighten the realism, Rhimes doesn’t do the typical TV thing and end the episode there, with the gut-punch and shock of the Olivia’s pregnancy and abortion hitting the audience in one huge wallop. He’s very progressive in so many ways and my guess is that Fitz would have a fairly progressive view on the matter, if only to say that it should not be in the hands of the government.

I may be alone at this point in thinking that, I don’t know (Laughs.) But I do, and I think when people love each other as primally as these two people do, I think they can come back from anything. And the pressures are intense and to not have anybody that you can share your confidence with, who you know has your back and frankly who understands your frailties, that’s a tough place to live in. I can do what ever I want!” Fitz may have been replaced by a couch (Laughs.) but the couch is an inanimate object — it’s a nice couch, and the couch isn’t going to make a lot of demands on Olivia.

But there’s going to be a tremendous backlash — I’m not saying this out of any knowledge of the story, but about life — when Olivia has to look in the mirror and realizes that she’s pushed away everybody who is close to her life and the man she does love. What would have happened if Olivia had said to Fitz, “I’m pregnant?” His face would have lit up in a smile and it would be the greatest joy in his life and he’d have embraced her and said, “Oh my God, we’re going to start a whole new life together, isn’t that fantastic?!” She couldn’t have that conversation because to her, that’s terror and a ball and chain.

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