In the 2015 winter finale of blockbuster television drama “Scandal,” showrunners shocked the nation. Not only did the show feature an abortion performed on lead character Olivia Pope (portrayed by actress Kerry Washington), the chilling scene was set to the Christmas song “Silent Night.”
In it, Pope discovers she’s pregnant by the show’s fictional president, Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant. She smiles slightly as the abortion is performed while “Silent Night” plays. The scene also features the brutal and cold-blooded execution of a man, while a monologue sneers at the idea of family:
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.
After the abortion is completed, Pope sits by a Christmas tree, drinking a glass of wine and listening to “Ave Maria.” The producers of the show chose to feature songs that glorified the birth of a child — and not just any child, but Jesus Christ — while glorifying the brutal killing of an innocent preborn child.
It’s not much surprise, then, that network executives didn’t want the scene to air.
The Hollywood Reporter interviewed the cast and producers in celebration of the show’s 100th episode, and that’s where it was revealed that the controversial scene almost didn’t make the cut.
“I remember we showed up for the table read the day the filibuster episode was about to air. [ABC’s] Standards and Practices wanted to cut Olivia’s abortion,” actress Bellamy Young, who plays First Lady Mellie Grant, explained. Shonda Rhimes, the executive producer and scriptwriter, called their bluff in an effort to save the scene.
“I said, ‘Go ahead, alter the scene. We’ll just have a lot of articles about how you altered the scene’,” Rhimes said. “We had done an abortion on a military woman who had been raped earlier on, and we were doing nothing different than we did in that scene — they just didn’t like that it was happening to Olivia. It was a Christmas episode, and we played Christmas music.”
“I don’t think abortion had ever been presented as an emancipated woman’s option before,” Young added. “And it’s set to ‘Silent Night.’ The balls to pick that song!”
The meaning of Christmas evidently escaped Rhimes and Young.
However, one person might have known better: Aretha Franklin. The version of “Silent Night” featured in the episode was performed by Franklin, and Rhimes made sure to get her approval before using it. “I kept going back to our music supervisor, ‘We sure Aretha Franklin is OK with this?’ I wanted to make sure Aretha knew what the scene was about,” Rhimes explained. “Her people said I was fine and to stop asking. It made me love her forever because then I could be like, ‘Aretha Franklin, who sings a lot of gospel music, is very supportive of this.'”
It’s sad that Aretha Franklin — who as Rhimes noted, has performed many gospel songs — did not feel it necessary to say that a song celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ might be inappropriate to accompany an abortion. It’s even worse that the network didn’t put a stop to such a scene.