After dancing around the idea since its inception, one of Jane the Virgin's major characters has finally opted to terminate a pregnancy. Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), who had Jane (Gina Rodriguez) as a teenager, has recently been dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. But in a twist on so many narratives, Xo decides to abort — and is completely secure in her decision.
"Personally, I wanted to see a different type of abortion story on TV," Jane the Virgin showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman told BuzzFeed News in an email on Monday. "One that didn't show the woman tortured and guilt-ridden. While that certainly does happen, it is not the only response, nor is it the only story that should be told."
Enter the Oct. 24 episode of Jane the Virgin, which finds Xo navigating a fight with her devoutly Catholic mother, Alba (Ivonne Coll), after a medical abortion that took place between episodes. "She's making me feel guilty," Xo says at one point. "Not about the abortion — she's making me feel guilty about not feeling guilty."
The concept of Jane the Virgin itself has always been a tricky one: The titular character goes in for a routine pap smear and is accidentally artificially inseminated, winding up pregnant. It's a conceit that had people gawking in the lead-up to the series in 2014, only to be won over by the deft way creator Snyder Urman and her team walked the complex lines between an outlandish premise and the very real choice one woman had to make.
Jane the Virgin has featured at least one pregnancy plot per season, each exploring different narratives dependent on the vastly different women at their center. In the first season, Jane followed through with the pregnancy she didn’t ask for. In the second, the show's complicated antihero, Petra (Yael Grobglas), went through a tough pregnancy and then was diagnosed with postpartum depression.
So when the writers decided to make Xo pregnant at the end of Season 2 after a one-night-stand with her ex-boyfriend's nemesis — in true telenovela fashion — the question of whether now would be the time for the show to pursue an abortion storyline hung thick in the air.
"We've had a few 'surprising' pregnancies on our show," Snyder Urman said. "But because we'd brought up abortion a few times as an option, and then dismissed it, I knew that for our next accidental pregnancy ... we'd definitely dramatize a different choice. I felt like we owed that representation for balance. And also for realism!"
Xo seemed to be a natural fit. After all, one of her major arcs in Season 2 made it perfectly clear that she absolutely did not want any more children, even with the love of her life. "We knew what her choice would be," Snyder Urman said. "And also, dramatically, we knew it would give us a chance to explore the different responses and points of view within the family."
Though Xo initially tells her mother that the cramps from her abortion are the stomach flu, the truth comes out midway through the episode and Alba does not hide her anger.
"In the writers room, we talked about how we didn't want the drama of the episode to be about Xo's choice — because we didn't think she'd be conflicted. Her fears and guilt are centered around something else entirely — i.e., how her much more religious mom would feel if she found out."
In one fight during the episode, the topic turns to the moment a quarter of a century prior when Alba advised a 16-year-old Xo to get an abortion after learning she was pregnant the first time. Alba insists she's never regretted anything more, and Xo interjects by saying, "Stop. I'm glad you told me that. It helped me choose to have Jane, and I have never regretted that, Mom. But at this stage in my life I don't want to be pregnant, and I don't want a baby."
The disagreement between Xo and Alba is not the focal point of the episode. Rather, it's mixed in with the usual dramatic shenanigans of Jane the Virgin. There's also a funny scene, before the fighting begins, in which Xo, Jane, and her husband, Michael (Brett Dier) discuss how to suss out whether Alba's figured out Xo's secret. "The trickiest part as always is tone," Snyder Urman said. "How to build it into the story without making it an after-school special, how to build in humor even though it's obviously about something serious, and how to find a resolution that felt real and cathartic — even though no one's mind would be changed."
Jane the Virgin has never shied away from the political charges in the air, so it's no coincidence that the writers chose to tell this story at a time when the subject of abortion remains a major debate in a year riddled with flashpoints.
"The rhetoric — especially now, especially in that third debate — was so horrific, divisive, inflammatory, and false that I feel like it's absolutely the right time to counterbalance that hate and fear with a story about family members who might have different point of views, but who love and respect one another too much to let it tear them apart," Snyder Urman said.
And that's exactly the note Jane the Virgin ends Xo's story on. "I don't agree with your decision," Alba says to Xo. "But it's your decision. We're different. The end."