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Shonda Rhimes Fought Back Against ABC When Making This “Grey’s Anatomy” Episode About Sexual Assault

“Respectfully, I decline these notes.”

Posted on March 29, 2019, at 4:07 p.m. ET

Mitch Haaseth / ABC

On Thursday night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, the show featured a storyline about how rape kits are administered in hospitals.

According to showrunner Krista Vernoff, Shonda Rhimes defended the episode — which was inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony accusing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in the summer of 1982 — when ABC’s standards and practices department pushed back and gave notes on some of the details.

“They give these standard notes: ‘don’t be too gory,’ ‘don’t be too explicit in your language,’ ‘no side boob.’ But the ones we got on this script included, ‘Please don’t show any fluid on the Q-tips’ and ‘Please don’t show any body fluids under the blue lights,’” Vernoff told the Hollywood Reporter.

But Rhimes, who created the show back in 2005, fought back and defended the script the way it was written, according to Vernoff.

“Shonda wrote back a pretty passionate response of the myriad ways that networks are willing to show actual violence but that what we were doing here was the medical process that happens in the wake of violence and they were trying to tell us we couldn’t show it,” Vernoff said.

“She said, ‘Respectfully, I decline these notes.’ … Ultimately ABC understood that she was right. I really give them credit that they came back and said, ‘You’re right. You can proceed as scripted.’”

ABC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During the episode, viewers watch flashbacks of Jo (Camilla Luddington) meeting her birth mother (Michelle Forbes) and learning that her biological mom abandoned her at a fire station when she was a baby because she was the result of a rape.

In present day, Jo is treating a trauma patient named Abby (Khalilah Joi), whom Jo believes to be a victim of domestic violence and the doctors find out has also been sexually assaulted. Jo eventually convinces Abby to take part in a rape kit to collect evidence, and asks for the patient’s consent every step of the way.

In a particularly moving part of the episode, women line the hallways of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital as Abby enters surgery because she told the doctors that every man she saw reminded her of her rapist. Vernoff said that all of the women dressed as doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff who supported the patient in this scene were all women who work on the show in real life.

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“From the moment the script was published, there was a big reaction to it at Shondaland. Everybody was blown away,” she told Entertainment Weekly.

“We started having people come up and ask if they could be in that scene. The women in that hallway are almost all the women on the writing staff. Many of the women are on the crew, or they are assistants at Shondaland, or they are women who work at ABC. I think there were more than 100 women.”

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