Familiar pro-abortion lament: “The Big A is treated as a dirty word” in popular culture

By Dave Andrusko

Gina Rodriguez and Justin Baldoni in "Jane the Virgin" (Credit: The CW/Patrick Wymore)

Gina Rodriguez and Justin Baldoni in “Jane the Virgin” (Credit: The CW/Patrick Wymore)

I’ve never seen “Jane the Virgin” and (given my schedule) it’s highly unlikely I will. But when Salon politely trashes the show for insufficiently promoting the “pro-choice” agenda, I took time to carefully read Nico Lang’s argument.

The post is necessarily complicated and compressed. Lang summarizes the premise of the story and its first season + in this manner:

The critically acclaimed dramedy stars Golden Globe-winner Gina Rodriguez as an aspiring writer who accidentally gets artificially inseminated after a hospital mix-up—and decides to keep it. This causes obvious tension in her relationship with Michael (Brett Dier) and a romance to blossom with Rafael (Justin Baldoni), the soon-to-be father of her child.

Lang gives the CW story line kudos for realistically portraying the trials and tribulations of becoming a single mom and for being “an incredibly non-judgmental view of motherhood.” So, where does the story go off the rails for Lang? How does it “struggle to walk its pro-choice talk”?

The seeds of doubt seem to have been planted early, at least in retrospect.

The show’s pilot was lauded for its pro-choice depiction of a matter-of-fact conversation about abortion when Jane finds out she’s pregnant, and later, for a conversation about whether or not Jane would terminate the pregnancy if tests showed severe abnormalities (she wouldn’t, and they didn’t).

Drats. How could Jane not agree?

This is followed by a recent episode regarding the choice made when the boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend [Petra] self-impregnates (I know, I know, but stick with me for a moment. This is, after all, a telenovela.)

Confusingly, the show emphasizes that it’s Petra’s body and her call, but abortion — in many ways, the least dramatic choice Petra could make here — is a non-starter. The Big A is treated as a dirty word.

Remember, we have read a gaggle of stories trumpeting that television and movies are becoming more “realistic,” that is, much more willing to resolve unplanned pregnancies in the “appropriate” manner–have an abortion. “Jane the Virgin” threatens the narrative that the days of the simple-minded response–have the baby–are long since gone.

To that end, Lang retraces what are, to her, the false steps–those movies where abortion was either not considered at all–such as “Waitress”–or considered and rejected–“Juno.”

Lang ends this way (the Cody is Diablo Cody, the screenwriter for “Juno,” who, like its creator, Judd Apatow, is pro-choice):

Cody argued that she intended to show the “human, teenage reasons” that someone might choose not to have an abortion, which is fair, but too rarely do we ever get to see the “human, teenage reasons” that a girl like Juno might choose to terminate her pregnancy.

She follows on to conclude

While the misstep is disappointing, pop culture has long struggled with how to present a woman’s right to choose in ways that are validating and non-dismissive.

But the large part of the thrust of the stories and posts and scholarly essays lauding the coming (but not complete arrival ) of more “realistic” portrayals of abortion in popular culture is that teenage girls are having abortions in shows such as “Friday Night Lights” and “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” (Adults , too–see “Grey’s Anatomy.”)

And, of course, in the movies, there is “Grandma” where Lilly Tomlin plays the grandmother who helps her granddaughter raise money to have an abortion, and the idiotic “Obvious Child,” whose adult-age lead character has the emotional intelligence of a pre-teen.

So, it is not as “rare” as Lang suggests.

Perhaps Lang’s real gripe is that while things are getting “better” (from her perspective), abortion is not the reflex option, the default position when a girl or woman faces an unplanned pregnancy in popular culture.

Thank goodness it isn’t.