The CW’s smash-hit Jane The Virgin doesn’t exactly shy away from the conversation surrounding women, their bodies, and their reproductive health.
After all, the entire conceit is that the title character, a young woman who has decided to wait to have sex until after she’s married, becomes a virgin mother after being accidentally artificially inseminated. From the get-go, Jane The Virgin has shown us women making hard decisions. We watched Jane decide to have her baby even if it meant she had to parent alone. We saw her agonize over whether or not to have prenatal testing. We watched as Petra came to terms with her post-partum depression. There’s already a Jane The Virgin precedent for these kinds of situations. The show treats its characters with great respect and dignifies their choices. Now, just a few episodes ago, viewers learned that Xiomara, Jane’s mother, had an off-screen abortion.
We’ve known for more than a season that Xiomara really doesn’t want to have more children, in fact, it’s what drove her and Jane’s father apart. She has spent her life (and her teenage years) raising Jane, and she’s just now getting to put herself first and take some big risks to try and pursue her dreams. So, Xiomara’s decision to have an abortion (she’s pregnant after a casual hook-up with a not-so-great guy) isn’t shocking.
But, her decision is so much more than a plot point — the show’s approach to abortion is nuanced and deeply important.
The other people in Xiomara’s life support her almost instantly, even if they themselves are sad or confused. Her mother, the show’s most traditional and religious character, is distraught and furious – she even says Xiomara will go to Hell for what she did – but ultimately comes around. Her relationship with her daughter is too important, so she works hard to set her feelings about this event aside.
We don’t see Xiomara’s abortion on-screen, we learn of it after the fact. She’s had positive conversations with Jane’s father, and with Jane and her husband Michael already. She knows what she wants to do and never doubts her decision. Here, the show already begins to stray from the norm in its portrayal. There is no pro-con list, no fraught decision-making montage. Xiomara’s certainty feels a little bit revolutionary.
We expect the decision to have an abortion to be a difficult one. As a society and a country, we’ve made it clear we don’t even really trust women to reach such a decision on their own. Religious and political beliefs aside (though Jane does a good job of exploring these factors, too), we have a hard time wrapping our heads around a woman who just doesn’t want to have her baby. We need to see a struggle, because we can’t understand a woman who would be so sure she doesn’t want to have her baby. It’s easier for us to make sense of abortion as a deeply fraught thing. Xiomara does not struggle. She knows.
Many have criticized this very element of the show’s depiction, saying they paint abortion as easy or somehow make casual a very charged and complicated experience. Showing a character who is certain she wants an abortion is not the same as making light of the issue. Jane depicts abortion as a perfectly legitimate, if religiously and politically fraught, option that a character has every right to choose with confidence. That’s not making light, that’s deftly expanding our understanding of what it means to choose to end a pregnancy.
In an October interview with The Hollywood Reporter, show-runner Jennie Snyder Urman explained that Xiomara’s abortion sent a crucial message. If she had chosen, instead, to carry the pregnancy to term, Urman explains, “that would be a really strong message…that a fortysomething woman who has raised a child and doesn’t want a baby should have it anyway.” That message is one Jane The Virgin would not stand by. Instead, Urman and her team of writers modeled respect for and trust of women in their treatment of Xiomara.
By giving their character autonomy and allowing her to stand confidently by her choice, Jane The Virgin acknowledged the vast spectrum of opinion surrounding abortion. Through Xiomara, they dignify women – and their varied choices – everywhere.