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The Personal Is Political: 'Scandal' Tackles Reproductive Health

Abortion storylines didn't used to be so rare.

We don't see feminist issues in mainstream TV much anymore. Especially, we don't see many discussions about Planned Parenthood, or very popular lead characters getting abortions.

It's puzzled me for a long time, why young working class women are so reluctant to even consider abortion when they have an unplanned pregnancy. I finally came to the conclusion that it was the predictable result of TV backing off on the issue, responding to pressure from right-wing groups and churches.

So it was kind of a shock when, after settling in to watch ABC's primetime soap opera Scandal last night, the story took such a surprising turn. I guess the parental advisory should have been a clue.

Shonda Rhimes is maybe the only person in TV with enough clout to pull this off. (After all, she produces Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder.) But it still had to be a risk.

Mellie Grant, the oh-so-recently divorced ex-wife of Republican president Fitz Grant, is also the newly-elected junior senator from Virginia. She's a little pissed off when she discovers the final funding bill before the Christmas break labels funding for Planned Parenthood as discretionary. (She's a Republican, too -- but not that Republican. Although how she gets elected in Virginia is beyond me. And PP funding is already discretionary, IIRC. However, it's a soap opera and beside the point.)

She doesn't plan to filibuster the bill, but it works out that way.

Meanwhile ex-husband Fitz and surrogate First Lady/superhero Olivia Pope are watching on the TV. Fitz grouses that Mellie is trying to make him look bad. Olivia, who has gone from a high-powered crisis management brand to a trapped bird in a gilded White House cage, mutters, "Maybe it's not about you."

And when it's all done, we see Olivia slipping into a doctor's office for a discreet after-hours abortion. Wow. No discussion, not even a clue that she's pregnant. Just a decision between Liv and her doctor.

Scandal is the No. 10 show with viewers age 18-49. If even a handful of them realize abortion isn't just for "bad" girls, it will have an impact.


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