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How One TV Show Helped Me Better Understand Abortion

Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker

Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker

There is a scene in season five of Scandal when the protagonist Olivia Pope gets an abortion. She does not tell her then-boyfriend Fitz about her decision. In fact, the entire scene happens without her saying a word. Aretha Franklin’s “Silent Night”—with words such as “all is well, all is right”—plays in the background. Though the presentation of abortion was not without a few flaws, on the whole it was incredibly powerful, and personally empowering. As I was watching the show, it occurred to me this was one of the few times I had seen an abortion on TV (another had been in an earlier episode of the same show.) Though I have never had an abortion, I didn’t realize how badly I needed to see positive depictions of the procedure until it was in front of me.

When I was a kid, I was very much a rule-follower. I had an anxiety attack over the fact that in science club we changed the color of a penny when I found out that there was a law banning defacement of US currency. My stomach actively tied itself into knots whenever FBI copyright warnings came on TV lest I should potentially violate their edicts. I got good grades and stayed out of trouble.

How I learned to break the rules is a different story for a different time, but a side effect to my non-rebellious decades is that I deeply internalized societal stigmas no matter what I might abstractly have believed politically. This manifested in many different arenas—my attitude towards drinking (others could, I couldn’t) and therapy (same)—and in my attitude about abortion.