Why Jane The Virgin’s Abortion Episode Was So Revolutionary
By: Kimberly Truong
Warning: Spoilers for Jane the Virgin ahead.
Jane the Virgin has never shied away from cleverly wading into the political conversation — and that’s why it’s one of the most progressive shows on TV right now.
On Monday night’s episode, the show tackled the topic of abortion by revealing that Jane’s mother, Xiomara, had a medication abortion after learning that she had gotten pregnant from a one-night-stand.
Jane has touched on abortion before — the telenovela-inspired show revolves around Jane, the titular virgin who is accidentally artificially inseminated in the pilot episode, and abortion comes up as an option when Jane is figuring out what to do about her pregnancy.
But last night’s episode, for which Planned Parenthood was a collaborator, tackled abortion in a different situation — head-on, and with a captivating frankness. For one thing, it marked the first time a Latina character has had an abortion on television. That’s not to say that we see Xo going to the doctor’s office for the procedure — in fact, the episode begins when she’s already had the abortion.
By the time the issue is on the table for us as viewers, it’s already happened, and Xo spends the episode grappling with how to tell her mother, Alba. Though Xo is worried about her mother’s judgment, most importantly, she doesn’t feel guilt or regret over her decision. In that sense, this is one of Jane’s strongest, and most subtle, political acts: There’s no drawn-out question about whether or not Xo should have the abortion. It’s not a tortured decision, and she has no regrets.
Of course, there are many female characters on TV who have decided to get abortions without guilt, but Jane the Virgin’s episode feels so revolutionary because it shifts attention to the stigma that often surrounds the procedure.
“It’s my mom,” Xo confesses to Rogelio, Jane’s father. “She’s making me feel guilty — not for the abortion; she’s making me feel guilty for not feeling guilty.”
Eventually, Xo and her mother agree to disagree: They can be close and love each other without having to see eye-to-eye on this decision, and they can respect that Xo’s choices do not need to reflect her mother’s opinions.
“This is the first time we’ve ever seen a Latina speak openly about her decision to have an abortion on primetime network television,” Caren Spruch, director of arts and entertainment engagement at Planned Parenthood, said in a press release. “This should not be revolutionary — Latinos, like the majority of the population, believe that the decision to have an abortion should be left to a woman in consultation with her family, her faith, and her doctor.”
She added: “A woman’s decision about her pregnancy should be respected and valued.”
Spruch is right — it shouldn’t have to be revolutionary, but it was, for the way that the show took the topic of abortion beyond the procedure itself and placed it firmly within the context of the nation’s conversation. Though we’ve made significant strides in women’s reproductive rights, there are still societal expectations for what a woman should or shouldn’t do (and how she should feel about her decision).
Plus, the show doesn’t portray abortion as a scary procedure; a medication abortion, which Xo undergoes, is a safe process that allows someone to end a pregnancy by taking two medicines in pill form — one at a clinic or health center, and another one 24–48 hours later.
“In order to ensure that abortion remains safe and legal for future generations, we must replace misinformation with the facts and start having honest conversations about abortion in America today,” Spruch said. “Pop culture can help challenge stigma and change the conversation about abortion.”
Jane, of course, has always been quietly revolutionary, and has never been a show to back down from making a statement. The show has thus far portrayed intersecting issues of race, immigration, policy reform, and motherhood, all in a thoughtful, nuanced manner. Its meaningful portrayal of abortion doesn’t come as a surprise, but it’s still incredibly satisfying to see something like this on primetime TV.
Hopefully, Jane will pave the way for more thoughtful representations of these issues on TV, in film, and in the media in general. Because, if the current election has taught us anything, it’s that there’s plenty of misinformation about abortion out there.