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Shonda Rhimes, who was honored, during Planned Parenthood’s 100th anniversary party at Pier 36 in New York, May 2, 2017. (Krista Schlueter/The New York Times)

The Smaller Screen

Shonda Rhimes recounts the time she had to fight ABC censors over abortion scene in ‘Scandal’

By WITW Staff on May 14, 2017

Cosmopolitan reporter Emma Dibdin published an interesting look at how abortion is depicted on television shows — given that such an issue, even though it’s a relatively common medical procedure, is still a major taboo that makes it a rarity on the small screen. For the piece, Dibdin spoke with ABC hitmaker Shonda Rhimes about the difficulty she had in getting an abortion scene past the broadcast standards executives at ABC, the network that airs her popular drama Scandal. Rhimes actually discusses two abortion scenes — one that the censors raised no issue with, and the other that she had to fight to keep in the final cut of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the series’ ninth episode of its fifth season.

The first scene involved “a soldier who had been raped and became pregnant, and Olivia [Pope] went into the procedure room with her and held her hand,” Rhimes recalled. “Because I’ve been writing a medical show for so long, to me, this is a medical procedure. It was not a big deal to me. And when we did it with the soldier, it wasn’t a big deal to anybody else either.”

But red flags went up when writers decided Pope, the main character on the show, would go in for the procedure. “I stood up for it, really hard,” Rhimes told Cosmo. “But you couldn’t tell me that there was anything wrong with that scene, since it was the exact same scene that we had done with the soldier that nobody had a problem with.” Eventually, network execs relented and the scene remained in the episode. “It felt really important to me that Olivia make that choice,” Rhimes continued. “But it was very interesting how many people said to me, ‘But Olivia wants to have kids!’ I was like, ‘I need you go to back, and look at the show, and tell me where that character has ever said that she wants to have kids.'”

Dibdin spoke with writers from nine other shows dating all the way back to 1972 who talk about how they shaped their scenes and the static they encountered from wary network executives. Interestingly, Rhimes turns up again in the piece talking about another scene from another one of her hit ABC shows.

Read the full story at Cosmopolitan.


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