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.”
When Pope Francis visited Philadelphia, he told the crowds that “the family is like a factory of hope. It’s a factory of resurrection…Children, whether young or older, they are the future, the strength that moves us forward. We place our hope in them.”
By ending the life of the child that she carried, Olivia eliminated the fruit of her love with Fitz. Yes, they had other issues. But the child is the incarnation and the future of the love between a man and a woman.
In his 1994 “Letter to Families,” Saint Pope John Paul II described the root of Olivia’s decision as the utilitarianism that ravages modern society; the quest for “maximum” happiness for “the exclusive benefit of the individual, apart from or opposed to the objective demands of the true good.” When this individualistic understanding of freedom is embraced by society, he says, “it soon proves a systematic and permanent threat to the family. In this regard, one could mention many dire consequences, which can be statistically verified, even though a great number of them are hidden in the hearts of men and women like painful, fresh wounds.”
The remedy, he goes on, lies in the love of spouses and parents which “has the capacity to cure these kinds of wounds, provided the dangers alluded to do not deprive it of its regenerative force, which is so beneficial and wholesome a thing for human communities.”
The final scene ends with Olivia sitting alone in her apartment, drinking a glass of red wine, and smiling as she looks at her Christmas tree. “Ave Maria” plays in the background, a song praising the angel’s announcement to Mary that with her consent she would become the mother of God.
The drama surrounding this woman is set against a greater drama surrounding another woman—the one who told God “let not my will, but yours be done.” In the first woman we see only despair, loss, and finally a cold self-satisfaction. Rather than simply denouncing the show as morally depraved and shutting it out, we should instead turn our thoughts to the second woman that is suggested in that last scene—the one whose choice to follow through with her own unexpected pregnancy brought about life, hope, and salvation for the world.
Anna Pfaff is a student at Hillsdale College and works at the American Principles Project.