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'Scandal' Abortion Storyline Marks Bold Move For Network Television


This next story comes with a huge spoiler alert for fans of "Scandal." I repeat - spoiler alert. Got it, "Scandal" watchers? You've been warned.

Last night's episode of the ABC drama was a bold challenge to the way network TV normally depicts a sensitive issue, the decision to end a pregnancy. Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: When lead character Olivia Pope was shown having an abortion on Thursday night's episode of "Scandal," no character said the word out loud. Instead, viewers saw Pope undergoing the procedure while Aretha Franklin's version of "Silent Night" played in the background. As the scene unfolded, the character's villainous father gave a voice-over speech about why he sees family as a weakness.


JOE MORTON: (As Rowan Pope) A pressure point, soft tissue, an illness. Family doesn't complete you, it destroys you.

DEGGANS: The scene was so powerful in part because network television rarely shows characters choosing to have an abortion or actually getting the procedure. Earlier in the episode, Mellie Grant, a senator from Virginia who used to be married to the president, spoke to the issue of women's rights. She filibustered a bill which could lead to reduced funding for Planned Parenthood.


BELLAMY YOUNG: (As Mellie Grant) By making that money discretionary, you give the people in this room the power to say, you know what, we're a little over budget this year - how 'bout we don't give that little ladies organization the full amount they're asking for?

DEGGANS: Planned Parenthood tweeted thanks to "Scandal's" creator and executive producer, Shonda Rimes, and issued a statement praising her. But in a piece for the conservative- oriented media watchdog site Newsbusters, writer Alexa Coombs called the abortion sequence, quote, "vile and stomach-churning." This isn't the first time Rimes has shown a character having an abortion on a TV drama she created. Four years ago, on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," workaholic surgeon Cristina Yang realized she was pregnant. When the baby's father tried to talk about having the child, she said...


SANDRA OH: (As Cristina Yang) No. There's no way we're doing this. Do you hear me?

KEVIN MCKIDD: (As Owen Hunt) Cristina.

OH: (As Cristina Yang) No, no. I am not this beautiful vessel for all that might be good about the future. I'm not hearing your hopes and dreams, no.

DEGGANS: Rimes told Time magazine last year that it's, quote, "weird and not realistic to have women on TV avoid considering abortion during unexpected pregnancies."

These are issues I think network TV should explore more often, and seeing Rimes kick-start the discussion with such a powerful episode only highlights why she remains one of television's most daring producers. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.