Kerry Washington Opens Up About Hateful Responses To The ‘Scandal’ Abortion Scene

Late last year on the ABC political drama Scandal, protagonist Olivia Pope (portrayed by Kerry Washington) decisively had an abortion without showing any sign of shame or regret. Depending on the sources you get your news from, Scandal and its writers probably received well-deserved praise for portraying abortion as the safe, guilt-free medical procedure it is, and in doing so, taking society one step closer to removing the stigma around it. But in an interview with The Huffington Post at the White House’s United State of Women Summit earlier this week, Washington talked about backlash over the Scandal abortion scene personally directed at her on social media, and, specifically, how she chose to deal with it.

“A lot of the people that may have reacted negatively are probably blocked on my Twitter, because I tend to be a pretty outspoken person when it comes to all kinds of human rights — women’s reproductive rights, immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, rights for people of color, voting rights,” Washington told The Huffington Post at the summit she attended Tuesday to deliver a speech about gender-based violence.

It’s worth noting that long before she rose to prominence playing a character whose job is to fix political crises, Washington was extremely active politically, campaigning for Secretary of State John Kerry in 2004, President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and currently serves on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Like all women who dare to express their opinions on social media, let alone advance a political statement so controversial on a primetime television series reaching millions of viewers, Washington knows the routine by now: share your view and get racially and sexually charged threats of violence. “I have no problem with people expressing a difference of opinion … but I do block people who express violence, sexism, racism — that’s inexcusable to me,” Washington said. If you ask me, blocking people who harass or threaten you on social media is both the safe and mentally healthy thing to do, so good on her.

While Washington didn’t help write the episode, she told The Huffington Post she was “grateful to be able to portray a character who makes a choice and doesn’t have shame about it.” She said: “I just think it’s important that we remind ourselves that we live in a country where choice is important.”

In a society where sexists and racists take advantage of social media to spread their hate on the daily, Washington’s experiences following her portrayal of a gendered issue so infuriatingly controversial is hardly a surprise. Her experiences are ultimately unsurprising, too, because of the harassment women seeking abortions in real life constantly face from anti-choice protesters outside of clinics.

scandal kerry washington
CREDIT: Eric McCandless/Getty Images

About one in three women will obtain an abortion in her lifetime, yet the procedure is still consistently portrayed as a shameful act that women should agonize over, even if it is the most sensible decision for them. Conservative politicians don’t help women by misrepresenting the procedure as the equivalent of killing babies and committing feticide.

Scandal defied both of these tropes when Washington’s character sought an abortion without hesitation, and while the procedure itself received minimal screen time, appeared by all means safe and ordinary.