Millions of people watched Scandal’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside” episode last Thursday and for better or worse, had a strong reaction to it. Now fondly referred to as the abortion episode, the main character, the strong, powerful, driven Olivia Pope, had an abortion that came out of the blue. The 30 second clip at the end of the show shows Olivia in stirrups on the doctor’s table; it shows the doctor methodically turn on a machine and pick up an instrument; it shows Olivia’s serious, stoic face as Silent Night plays in the background, singing “Halleluiah” as the camera pans in on her face, staring up at the lights.
Olivia’s father, Rowan, is heard in a voice over saying, “Family is a burden … a pressure point, soft tissue, an illness, an antidote to greatness. You think you’re better off with people who rely on you, depend on you, but you’re wrong, because you will inevitably end up needing them, which makes you weak, pliable. Family doesn’t complete you. It destroys you.”
Why I’m Mad at Scandal’s Abortion Episode
So many things about Olivia and this episode troubled me that it has taken days of thinking and jotting down notes before attempting to pull them all together, so here is my attempt to explain why I’m mad at Olivia Pope and the abortion episode, without pushing my own agenda on you.
Shonda Rhimes was clearly making a statement with this abortion scene. It is revolutionary because it tackled abortion in a way that the media has not portrayed it before – as a common, safe, legal procedure that does not need a melodramatic storyline. It shows a smart, successful woman who could care for a child (or pay for someone to care for her child) but who chooses not to – not from lack of education, resources, or support – but because it would simply interfere with her life plans and goals. Rhimes wanted to tell this story, the story of 1 in 3 women who have had abortions because it is their legal right and personal decision, and it does not have to be a horrific, depressing, life-shattering one.
Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood put out a statement immediately after the episode stating that “tonight…millions of people…learned that our rights to reproductive health care are under attack…Rhimes used her platform to tell the world that if Planned Parenthood lost funding for contraceptive counseling, STI testing, cancer screenings, millions of people would suffer.” So this was Rhimes’ agenda.
Why I’m okay with it
Just last week I wrote a post about why controversial topics need to be talked about, so how can I deny bringing a real, topical issue out in the open? I see you Shonda, let’s talk about it! Let’s learn about the issues and think about our beliefs.
Why I’m not okay with it
If Rhimes’ message was what Planned Parenthood’s statement suggests, I think she accomplished the opposite. Instead of shedding light on all the useful resources and health care PP provides, we see a rich, powerful woman get an abortion, viciously attack and break up with her boyfriend, then go home, eat popcorn, and smile with a glass of wine. There was an opportunity to educate people, like me, who focuses on abortion when it comes to Planned Parenthood instead of the testings, cancer screening, and contraceptive counseling. Instead, her platform spoke to pro-life believers saying Planned Parenthood is a place for even elite women to get a quick, unfeeling, emotionless abortion. Olivia’s nonchalant abortion undermined any of PP’s positive, non-abortion agenda. Message received, I’m just not sure it achieved her goal.
“Women can’t have it all” message
Olivia is supposed to be this powerful woman that viewers admire. She is extremely intelligent and hardworking; she is fierce, a fighter, and doesn’t back down in the face of danger – heck, she even survived a horrific kidnapping where viewers got to see vulnerable Olivia who also doesn’t give up.
What upset me aside from the abortion was Olivia’s fight with Fitz. She yells horrible things at him, realizing that when she can have full access to the “man of her dreams,” she doesn’t want it. She cannot handle the responsibility of being an actual, true partner to someone. Why does caring about a man mean you are weak? Why does the thought of embracing your womanhood and having a baby mean you cannot continue the life you want? Women can have it all, and I prefer to send empowering messages to women to show them that they can be in a loving relationship, work, be a mother, have intelligence, and a highly successful career
Again, I understand that Shonda was sending a message that this is the story of lots of women’s abortions, a story that should be told. One tweet said that she should be “applauded” for showing what abortion “really is” – a simple, common, legal, medical procedure. Okay, I get it – abortions are legal, but there is nothing simple about this procedure – it’s not a common, simple procedure, and that’s why the topic and this episode are so controversial. Women who have had abortions or may want one, the law is currently on your side, so why do we have to empower them to have abortions? Why do we have to glorify a procedure that ends life? This episode showed that a baby would get in the way of the life Olivia wanted, and since she couldn’t be burdened with motherhood, she could emotionlessly dispense of a child trying desperately to grow.
Fine message, poor taste
Even though I’m sure you can tell which side of the debate I am on, I do understand why Rhimes put the abortion scene out there, especially because it supports my belief to talk about controversy. So while I’m fine with her message, I am not okay with the way she went about it. It was in very poor taste. The juxtaposition of Silent Night, a holy song celebrating Mary’s journey to ultimately give birth to Jesus against Olivia’s abortion was in very poor taste. “Sleep in heavenly peace” – it only gives me the image of her unborn baby being eternally put to rest against his or her wishes. Again, I don’t think this is helping Rhimes’ advocacy for Planned Parenthood, it’s just more off putting to anyone who is pro-choice. People were saying Rhimes was “brave” for putting this story out there. I truly fail to see what was brave about this…? What am I missing?
I go back to Rowan’s monologue, where he calls family “a pressure point, soft tissue, an illness.” You can’t help but imagine the “soft tissue” of a baby trying to live and grow being dispensed. You can’t help but think Olivia equates pregnancy to an illness. A baby is not just a lump of cells, and it is certainly not an illness.
A history of selfishness
For years, Fitz and Olivia talked about their fairy tale – their life together in Vermont. The life where they could live freely, openly, and away from judgement. They would live in a house in Vermont with four kids, and Olivia would make jam. This life has been referenced for years through various seasons. There have also been points in their relationship during fights where Olivia says, “There is no Vermont, there is no jam,” but these were heartfelt, tearful moments. She really liked the idea of having a normal, family relationship, but when it comes down to it and that life is within reach, it terrifies her.
For some reason, she always had Fitz and Jake crazily, madly in love with her, even after she pushed them away and acted horribly. When it came down to it last year, Olivia has to choose between Jake and Fitz, and who does she choose? Herself. I guess even though this abortion came out of the blue, Olivia choosing herself without considering anyone else’s life or emotions is at her very core.
What do you think about Scandal’s abortion episode? Was it a brave, empowering message to be applauded? More importantly, who would YOU choose – Jake or Fitz?