Around this time of year, “Silent Night” typically evokes nativity scenes: a mother and child, in heavenly peace. Which made it all the more dissonant to hear the song near the end of Thursday’s mid-season finale of Scandal, as—spoilers ahead—Olivia Pope laid down on a table in a clinic to have an abortion.
Scandal, as millions of fans will attest, is a show where political corruption, torture, assassination, and terrorism regularly figure into weekly episodes. But the decision to show a woman undergo a legal procedure felt especially shocking—largely because television is still so skittish about abortion, even more than 40 years after Roe v. Wade. In the instance that a major female character on a show contemplates ending a pregnancy, she rarely goes through with it, and if she does, it’s depicted offscreen. So Scandal should prove a meaningful example to other shows moving forward for the straightforward, unflinching, but sensitive way it handled the big moment.
For one, the moment really wasn’t all that big. The episode was largely about the ex-First Lady and now-Senator Mellie Grant filibustering a spending bill that would have threatened Planned Parenthood. Olivia’s abortion scene lasted less than a minute and featured no dialogue. It wasn’t preceded by handwringing or debate between Olivia and other characters, including Fitzgerald Grant, the President of the United States and Olivia’s boyfriend. The camera didn’t ogle, but it didn’t shy away from Olivia’s wide-eyed gaze either. The message? This is normal. This is acceptable. This is Olivia’s choice, and hers alone.