Last night, Scandal watchers’ jaws everywhere dropped to the floor as Olivia Pope skipped a White House dinner engagement to walk into a doctor’s office and get an abortion. Viewers never knew she was pregnant and there was no dialogue, whatsoever.
Jessica Samakov of The Huffington Post says, “Olivia walks into a doctor’s office, is assisted by a female medical professional, undergoes a minimally invasive medical procedure then continues on with her life. And that is what makes the moment so radical for television.”
The entire episode is anchored to female reproductive rights. The episode starts with Mellie questioning her fellow senators on a bill that would make funding for Planned Parenthood “discretionary spending.” In a plot twist clearly inspired by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ famous 12-hour filibuster to keep an abortion bill from passing in 2013, Mellie seizes control of the Senate floor and does her own pro-woman filibuster. Women across the land were already cheering… then we followed Olivia Pope into that office.
It’s so important that Olivia is shown handling it alone. It’s so important that she doesn’t fall apart. It’s so important that she pulls herself together and gets on with life. It’s so important that this ground-breaking moment of the show was merely a subplot — over in seconds. Because a woman’s ability to make medical decisions for her body need not be the focus of her life. It need just be an innate right… something we would not even blink at. Millions of viewers watched their favorite character on television exercise her right to choose: to have ownership over her own body and what happens in it. That is powerful.
An abortion isn’t an identity – it’s a medical procedure. Olivia Pope is still Olivia Pope when she walks out of that office.
Of course, there are thousands of people swearing they’ll never watch the show again — which perfectly illustrates the hypocrisy of those against a woman’s right to choose. This is a program that routinely shows murder and torture. It showed a father raping his daughter-in-law. The two dominant story lines of the show regard 1) a subversive government agency that has no moral compass and kills indiscriminately and 2) an extra-marital affair that’s totally dismantled a family. But show a few seconds of a woman getting a minimally invasive medical procedure and everyone screams, YOU’VE GONE TOO FAR.
Kudos to Shonda Rhimes for going there and for ABC for allowing it to happen. It may have been a few seconds of a subplot of a primetime show — but it was an important moment for women. Olivia did something that women have the right to do. With no explanation. Period.
Samakov says, “Scandal showed abortion for what it is: A completely legal medical procedure that does not determine what kind of person a woman is, and that only makes up a small part of said woman’s life story.
That’s why Olivia Pope’s no-big-deal abortion was such a big deal.”