It is Christmas Eve, and Olivia Pope, star of the ABC melodrama Scandal is about to get an abortion. In an episode that aired Thursday night, she lays in the operating bed while the music of “Silent Night” plays. We watch her face run through the emotions of anxiety, uncertainty, and pain while listening to these words from her father:
Family is a burden…a pressure point, soft tissue, an illness, an antidote to greatness. You think you’re better off with people who rely on you, depend on you, but you’re wrong, because you will inevitably end up needing them, which makes you weak, pliable. Family doesn’t complete you. It destroys you.
Olivia closes her eyes and opens them, and her face is now calm, confident, and cold. In our society, abortion is seen as a choice that allows women to remain free and individually autonomous, not subject to any constraints on their own will. This view is possible because children are seen as a burden; an obstacle to success, to pleasure, to independence. Olivia chooses to eliminate this child who will rely on her so that she will never be dependent on another person—out of material necessity or out of the necessity that comes from love.
Call it sacrilegious or a coincidence, but the irony of these events occurring to the tune of “Silent Night” tells us even more about Olivia’s decision. On the night that God entered the world as a helpless baby, fully dependent on care from his family, Olivia has silenced the voice of the child who would rely on her. As Christ’s story tells us, his family did become dependent on him, as did the rest of humanity. This dependence does not lead to our destruction, however, but to our salvation. For this reason, the story of Christmas is a story of hope.
In contrast, Olivia’s story does not end in hope but in despair. After the abortion Olivia returns to the White House where she gets in an argument with President Fitz. When he tells her of his past attempts to propose to her, she looks down and says, “There is no future. Not anymore.”
Anna Pfaff works for the American Principles Project.