Planned Parenthood’s statement
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, [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.
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.”
In her weekly recap podcast “Shondaland Revealed,” executive producer Betsy Beers interviewed Goldwyn and only briefly discussed Olivia’s pregnancy, calling it “the thing which is not spoken of.”
“It’s not spoken of in the episode at all,” Beers said. “It just happens, there’s no lead-up.”
“That’s what I thought was so brilliant about it,” Goldwyn added.
What was the table read like when the cast got this script?
We were all shocked, honestly, at how dark the writers went. That abortion blew my mind. It was not what I expected with Olivia and Fitz. I was really impressed with the boldness of it; Shonda never fails to amaze me with her fierceness. But emotionally, we were all silent afterward; like, “What just happened?!”
Did you guys have questions for Shonda after reading this episode?
I didn’t; I just had to absorb it and think about it. It was pretty clear. I thought that final scene with me and Kerry, as awful as it was, was very well-written. It was clear and quite balanced. 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. But that scene has both points of view pretty firmly in place, which is part of what made it so sad. And of course she’s withholding this terrible secret that Fitz has no clue about.
“You can imagine we were all pretty shocked,” co-star Guillermo Diaz told EW editor Henry Goldblatt duringThe 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. But this time it was all sort of ominously quiet. I think everyone was surprised, but also very excited that it was something that hasn’t really been seen on television before. It felt like, ‘Oh my god, we’re going there. This is real, it’s a reality, it’s life.’ That part was really exciting. It was something different and new and I hope people appreciated how Shonda [Rhimes] went there with no fear.”
“[ABC execs] trust [Shonda], she’s been working on television for over 12 years,” he says. “They respect and trust and know that she’s going to bring in a good product and it’s going to ultimately be received well. Whether people have an angry reaction or happy or can relate to it, it’s all good. It’s just great that she’s our boss, and she’s our leader, and we all trust her so much. We know she’s not going to lead us down a wrong path.”
What did you think of the other story lines with Planned Parenthood and Olivia’s abortion?
Diaz: Obviously [the abortion] was quite shocking. There was a moment for me at the table read, when I thought how powerful and how interesting that it’s going to be handled this way on a TV show, this reality of having an abortion. We also have to remember that this is a story that Shonda is telling about these people. This is just a little stop in the journey of Scandal. It was in the middle of this story that ultimately will have an ending. We have to remember that it’s a fictional story. It’s part of Olivia and Fitz’s journey right now. You’re in store for some really juicy stuff with them, I can tell you that. Of course, people are going to have very strong opinions about [the abortion] for obvious reasons, but that’s what makes great television too. It makes people think and starts conversations. That’s a good thing. That was such an intense scene between them — the way it went in and out and to Rowan and myself.
When I asked Foley if the stage direction for Olivia’s scene specified the procedure in progress, he retrieved his script to confirm the answer. As he read to me:
Olivia, the only patient in this room, watches Noah Baker on TV. In the corner of the room, her two Secret Service agents hang back….
INTERIOR: CLINIC EXAM ROOM, where Olivia lies back on the exam table, One foot slides into a stirrup, then the other one. She adjusts the sheet covering her lower half. As the female doctor’s needle disappears under the sheet, Olivia winces. The female doctor places the needle on her surgical tray, she picks up acannula, her hand disappears under the sheet again. As the female doctor switches on the machine, Olivia clutches the side of the table and stares up into the sky. Because this time there’s no hand to squeeze, no face to find comfort in. This time, it’s just Olivia — and the hum. There’s always the hum. On an emotionless Olivia, we END ACT V.
“There was no direct mention of abortion,” Foley realizes.
As the cast at the table read processed for the very first time — save for Kerry Washington, who Foley believes knew ahead of time — the surprising moment, “There were no gasps. It was just quiet. There were a lot of looks around,” Jake’s portrayer recalls. “I think I was sitting next to Katie Lowes, and I might have put my hand on her back or shoulder or something. Because I don’t know if everybody got it. But for me, it was glaringly apparent” what had just happened on the page.
SF: For me, the real moment of this episode is a very simple yet poignant scene with Olivia. The abortion scene is so telling, so on point and so in character that just listening to the stage directions being read at the table read was heartbreaking and maybe more importantly, it was powerful. So powerful. The silence in the room at that moment was really telling. That something that has been legal throughout this country for 42 years can still have that effect, just on paper, and to a fictional character, really tells you what an important topic it is. Yeah, so there was that.
It was an on-air depiction of the actual abortion procedure — something that’s never been shown onscreen on a network (read: non-cable) primetime series. More commonly, television shows with abortion storylines will often use shots of women in abortion clinic waiting rooms or in bed after the procedure as a way to indicate what happened.
It’s implied that she’s having an abortion, but neither the name of the procedure — nor her pregnancy — is ever mentioned. 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.
“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.
Legendary producerNorman 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.