Behind the decision to abort on the program “Jane the Virgin”

By Dave Andrusko

Left to right: Jane, Xo, and Alba

Left to right: Jane, Xo, and Alba

 

I have to be careful to limit what I write about this week’s episode of “Jane the Virgin” to the backdrop because I do not watch the show. (Having read many comments about the program, this may change.)

I do know that many people whose opinions I respect have loved the first two seasons, minus last season’s final episode.

But what was for them a refreshing, family-friendly respite, alas, has embraced the culture of death. Thanks to the writers, three generations of Hispanic women are portrayed as coming to accept the death of a member of the fourth generation.

Here’s the setting.

Due to a mix-up, Jane was accidently artificially inseminated but carried the baby, whom she named Mateo, to term even though she is unmarried and unwillingly pregnant.

But in Season Two’s final episode, Jane’s mother– Xiomara (Xo)–is contemplating an abortion, much to the chagrin of the third lead female character, Alba, Xo’s mother and Jane’s grandmother.

As Season Three begins, Xo has already aborted her baby. But how did the decision to abort come to pass?

To find out, Vanity Fair interviewed show runner Jennie Snyder-Urman who explained to Laura Bradley, the decision was made “intentionally”:

“I knew we had dealt with reproductive rights and abortion in terms of Jane’s story twice: when she got accidentally inseminated, and when she was having testing done at the 20 weeks and had to potentially make some decisions,” Snyder-Urman said. “But because of that character, and where she was, and her circumstances, we always knew that she was going to have this baby.”

Snyder-Urman said she wanted to balance the show’s portrayal of reproductive rights and health, and wanted to show another option women have before them in these situations. “I also thought we were uniquely positioned within the family to weigh different people’s opinions on it and ultimately respect what Xiomara wanted to do,” Snyder-Urman added.

In English that means to Snyder-Urman, presenting abortion “as just another option Xiomara chose to take—one that doesn’t have to be accompanied by guilt.”

So to whom did Snyder-Urman go to determine how the Hispanic community might respond (in Bradley’s words) to “the first abortion and subsequent discussion by a Latina woman on a primetime network show”?

Who else? Planned Parenthood.

“Snyder-Urman said that polls and research indicated the majority of respondents thought whether or not to get an abortion should be a decision made between family, faith, and doctor—and that even where people don’t agree, they believe it’s important to respect a woman’s decision,” Bradley writes.

The one “squeaky wheel” is Xo’s mother, Alba. A “deeply religious” woman, she is grappling not just with Xo’s determination to abort but with the counsel Alba had given to Xo when she was carrying Jane–to abort.

But, to make sure ultimately the “right” lesson is drawn, Alba comes around in the end.

Indeed, by the end of the episode, Alba lets Xiomara know that she respects her decision through an amusing parallel. Early in the episode, Xiomara had complained about the wallpaper Alba chose for their newly renovated living room. Alba had insisted she liked it—until Xiomara and Jane walked in on her ripping it down. “I was stubborn and I didn’t want to admit that I hate this wallpaper,” Alba said, “but I do, so I’m taking it down and moving on. Which is what I want us to do. Move on. I don’t agree with your decision, but it’s your decision. We’re different. The end.”

As Snyder-Urman said, Alba realizes she loves her daughter more than she hates the idea of abortion. And so the episode closes with the three Villanueva women tearing down the wallpaper together. It’s Xiomara’s decision. She and her mother are different. The end.

Again, I have not seen the show. But as a metaphor, likening a disagreement over tearing off/retaining wallpaper to disagreeing over aborting a baby/carrying the baby to term, is (to be polite) lacking in gravitas.

As we just read, Snyder-Urman argues the message is Alba “loves her daughter more than she hates the idea of abortion.” But in a very family-oriented series, would that be a surprise? That Alba could be 300% against the abortion, yet still love her adult child?

Moreover, what is Alba to do now? Risk alienating for life her daughter (and possibly her granddaughter and her great-grandson)?

Snyder-Urman is telling us, between the lines, that she is contributing to the “tell your [abortion] story” campaign. Which is why it is not the least bit surprising that Caren Spruch, director of arts and entertainment engagement at Planned Parenthood, said in a statement, “Planned Parenthood applauds Jane the Virgin for depicting a family having frank and honest discussions about abortion.”

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Pro-life critics agree with Snyder-Urman that the abortion is presented casually (Alba’s objections is the single exception). But this is not a strength (as it is to Snyder-Urman), but a glaring weakness, and a tragic fault.

We will see in the episodes to come whether there is an aftermath to Xo’s decision. Not an out-and-out pro-life statement, mind you, but an acknowledgment that something/someone of great significance was lost.