In Praise of How Jane the Virgin Discussed Abortion Last Night

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Ivonne Coll as Alba, Gina Rodriguez as Jane, and Andrea Navedo as Xiomara in Jane the Virgin.Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW

Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Some might think that Jane the Virgin is an anti-abortion show. After all, the premiere centered around Jane Villanueva discovering she’s pregnant after an accidental artificial insemination and deciding to have the baby. When Jane was considering what to do, her very Catholic grandmother, Alba, told her she’d asked Jane’s mother, Xiomara, to have an abortion when she got pregnant with Jane at 16. Alba said she “thanked God” that Xo kept the baby. Jane and her family also discuss the possibility of abortion later in her pregnancy, when she has an abnormal sonogram.

But, on last night’s episode, we learned that Xo had an abortion. I say “learned” because we don’t see Xo hemming and hawing over the decision or visiting a doctor’s office. After Alba asks about a doctor’s bill that Xo said was for the stomach flu, a narrator simply clarifies that Xo had a medication abortion that causes stomach cramps. Executive producer Jennie Snyder Urman told Vanity Fair that this story line was an opportunity to balance the show’s depiction of women’s reproductive choices.

At the end of season two, Jane’s mother, Xiomara, learns she is pregnant after a one-night stand. Xo was vocal about not wanting more kids and had recently broken up with Jane’s father, Rogelio, because he did. She eventually tells Alba that she had an abortion and they fight about it, with Alba implying that Xo could end up in hell for what she’s done. Xo goes to see Rogelio, who is not the father, and says of her mom: “She’s making me feel guilty about not feeling guilty.” He responds: “Get your mother out of your head. If you’re sure about your choice, that’s all that matters.” When Xo gets home, Alba tells her that while she doesn’t agree with Xo’s decision, it was hers to make.

Snyder Urman told Vanity Fair: “We had a real opportunity to understand and empathize with both of their points of view.” She added, “We tried really hard to have a balance — to give Alba a chance to say what she wanted to say, to give Xo and them [a chance] to show that the family’s love is going to get them past the fact that they don’t agree on everything.”

And it’s the first time a Latina had an abortion on prime-time network television, according to a Planned Parenthood release. Snyder Urman consulted with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America to get insight on how abortion is portrayed on TV and what the Latino community thinks about the right to choose. Xo’s experience was much more realistic than what we usually see.

A study released last year found that abortions on TV usually don’t reflect reality: The fictional women who had them between 2005 and 2014 were often younger, whiter, and wealthier than women who terminate pregnancies in real life. Only 15 percent had children, whereas 61 percent of women seeking abortion are already parents. Almost 90 percent of TV characters who got abortions were white, but in the real world, 36 percent of abortion-seeking women are white, 30 percent are black, 25 percent are Latina, and 9 percent are classified as other.

Not only did Xo know what she wanted to do, she also didn’t spend time on camera debating it. “It is not a tortured abortion. It is not an abortion where she is unclear about what she wants or unclear about her choice,” Snyder Urman told The Hollywood Reporter. “She’s very clear and I think most abortions are that. And I feel like that’s an important thing to reflect on TV as well.”

Abortion has been a flashpoint in this election — just last Wednesday, Americans watched Hillary Clinton’s passionate defense of reproductive rights. “It’s just so much, right now, under attack that I feel like it’s an important [topic], Snyder Urman told The Hollywood Reporter. “Abortion is an important thing to be talking about, to normalize, to not stigmatize, and to dramatize.”

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