‘Jane the Virgin’ Decided to Introduce Abortion, And It Was Awful

‘Jane the Virgin’ Decided to Introduce Abortion, And It Was Awful

The show could have approached the topic of abortion with thoughtfulness. Instead, tragically, 'Jane the Virgin' makes light of it.
Gracy Olmstead
By

I first started watching “Jane the Virgin” after leading actress Gina Rodriguez won one of her first (of many) awards for her role as Jane Villanueva. My Twitter erupted with celebration from fans—male and female, liberal and conservative, religious and secular—who loved the show. Curiosity piqued, I began watching. I soon realized this funny, dramatic, family-centric show was truly unique.

It’s not just unique because Jane has decided to remain celibate until marriage. Or because she’s accidentally artificially inseminated at a routine doctor’s visit, and becomes pregnant as a result. It’s not just peculiar because, in the face of this life-shattering event, Jane decides to keep the baby and raise him—shifting her life goals and timelines in order to make room for this new little one. Neither is it just distinctive because Jane, despite her many faults and foibles, is a truly good, kind, loving, thoughtful, moral, responsible individual who believes in living selflessly and supporting her family.

Beyond all these noteworthy aspects, Jane the Virgin has consistently celebrated the family over the individual, love over alienation, interdependency over independence. And that’s pretty strange in today’s Hollywood.

But this season, the writers of “Jane the Virgin” decided to do something different. They decided to have Jane’s mother, Xiomara, choose abortion when she becomes pregnant by mistake.

Why ‘Jane The Virgin’ Decided to Include Abortion

Xiomara’s life circumstances at the time are nearly identical to Jane’s. She is in love with someone besides the baby’s father. She’s on a different life trajectory, with a vision for the future that does not include children. The pregnancy is unexpected, shocking, and frustrating.

But Jane chooses life—and her mother does not.

Sadly, I think Hollywood’s more progressive ideology is leaning in here. The fact that Xiomara’s abortion is handled so lightly by romantic interest Rogelio, daughter Jane, and Jane’s new husband Michael makes this clear. To them, this abortion is nothing. They’re more interested in figuring out how to hide it from Xiomara’s mother Alba than they are in considering the larger moral, personal, and emotional implications of the act.

There’s no moment in which anyone asks Xiomara, “Are you okay?” No one so much as frowns when the topic comes up in conversation. Xiomara and her supporting cast of characters don’t just talk about the abortion encouragingly—they talk about it lightly, as if it were a head cold to be gotten rid of.

When Alba does find out about Xiomara’s abortion, she is incensed. But she isn’t heartbroken. She never refers to a “baby”—indeed, the show is careful to avoid any child-related terminology in relation to Xiomara’s act. Alba fits all the stereotypes a progressive writing about traditional Catholics could hope for: she’s angry, condemnatory, and even throws in a reference to “hell.”

But this—this isn’t pro-life. It isn’t pro-family. And it isn’t what “Jane the Virgin” has offered us for the past two seasons.

Is ‘Jane the Virgin’ Trying To Normalize Abortion?

In making abortion part of this season, the writers of “Jane the Virgin” have said they are attempting to “normalize” abortion. The show is moving in the same vein as this year’s “Tell My Abortion Story” campaign, and other progressive efforts to mainstream abortion. They are, at least in a sense, aiming to take abortion lightly.

Take the moment when Xiomara complains to Rogelio about her mother’s reaction to the abortion. When she says Alba is “trying to make her feel guilty for not feeling guilty,” Rogelio responds with a cheesy smile, an affirmative “you do you,” and a “stay real, bruh.” The lack of gravitas is deeply frustrating—but it’s more than that. The writing is so underwhelming, it feels fake. Nothing about this fits the show’s gentle, thoughtful tone.

Perhaps abortion needs to be talked about more on the national stage. Perhaps our shows—even funny, family-centric comedies such as “Jane the Virgin”—need to discuss it, its dynamics and repercussions.

But if we are to discuss abortion, we must do so with the understanding that it has consequences. Even progressives must be willing to acknowledge that abortion is serious—not a momentary annoyance or trivial act. (Vanity Fair said “Jane the Virgin” should be the show to discuss abortion because it is “thoughtful” and “subtle.” Sadly, there was nothing thoughtful or subtle about this episode.)

Even progressives must acknowledge that abortion impacts the emotional and physical well-being of the mother. For a majority of Americans, abortion is much more than that: it’s the extinguishing of a human life. It’s the extermination of a baby, at its most vulnerable and dependent stage.

‘Guilt’ Is a Bad Word In Today’s Culture

As Josh Sabey pointed out in an article about “Jane the Virgin” that he wrote for The Federalist last week, the show has often embraced a more smarmy version of religious absolutes:

Even though Alba’s daughter (Jane’s mother) Xiomara was decidedly not a virgin, she still feels like her entire childhood was tainted because her mother made her feel guilty about her choices. Jane agrees. Eventually Alba also admits that imposing her beliefs was hypocritical and wrong. They all agree that virginity is a personal decision—one that’s right for some people and wrong for others.

Similar messages are repeated so often it would be hard to miss. When Jane is deciding whether to pursue her master’s degree three weeks after having a child, she attends a nursing class where the mothers all talk about the different ways they’ve balanced work and motherhood. The teacher tells them all that what they choose doesn’t matter as much as making sure they’re doing what’s right for them individually.

When I first read Sabey’s article, I had a swath of rebuttals at the ready. Of course the show doesn’t castigate people who have sex before marriage, I thought. Not only would that never happen in a secular television show—it would not communicate the complex aspects of these sorts of commitments. The show doesn’t portray Jane as the perfect virgin, because none of us are perfect. As a good friend noted about Alba’s own hypocrisy on the virginity issue, “Alba’s hypocrisy wasn’t just harmful projection but she really is trying to be a good person, believing she herself wasn’t, and wants better for them.”

Past lightness on the subject of sex seemed to give concessions to pop culture mantras on sexuality and promiscuity, while still enabling Jane to keep her commitment—and fostering a more serious, intentional attitude towards virginity than we often see on television.

This Episode Drops What Made ‘Jane the Virgin’ Great

But I cannot fault Sabey for his statements on guilt in “Jane the Virgin”—because Xiomara almost iterated them, verbatim, on this week’s episode. Alba “wants to make me feel guilty about not feeling guilty,” she said. She targeted guilt as criminal, as much as or more than the act of aborting her baby. She does not want to acknowledge any moral absolutes, and neither—it turns out—does Alba.

What has made “Jane the Virgin” a sparkling, funny, warm show has been its commitment to family—and to all the love, sacrifice, and pain that commitment requires. It’s been a pro-life show in more than just one way. Jane welcomes Mateo into her life, but she also welcomes her former nemesis Petra, baby daddy Rafael, father Rogelio, and a host of other people. Over the course of the past two seasons, Jane has learned to forgive and love; she’s learned to grapple with her fears.

But perhaps what’s most saddening about the turn of events represented by this episode is the fact that it will only last one episode. Xiomara’s abortion was a lighthearted head nod to progressives’ dogma on abortion. Any larger hurt—any guilt or fear or regret—associated with that decision was swept under the rug, in the name of tolerance, acceptance, and “choice.”

To do differently—to dwell on the moral and personal impact of this decision, even for a moment—would be more in line with what “Jane the Virgin” has offered us thus far. But it would also offend the larger sensibilities of a progressive culture. And so it did not happen.

Gracy Olmstead is associate managing editor at The Federalist and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women. Her writings can also be found at The American Conservative, The Week, Christianity Today, Acculturated, The University Bookman, and Catholic Rural Life.
Photo Courtesy of the CW

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