Inside 'Jane the Virgin's' Decision to Tackle the Abortion Question (Again)

Showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman talks to THR in-depth about Monday's episode and what's next.
Scott Everett White/The CW

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's episode of Jane the Virgin, "Chapter Forty-Six."]

Abortion is a word that's been heard on Jane the Virgin before, but Monday's episode of The CW series dealt with it in a much dramatic way than ever before.

In the episode, it was revealed that Xo (Andrea Navedo) had decided not to carry her baby with Esteban to term and had gotten an abortion. Although that revelation was hardly surprising to viewers given that she had already told Rogelio (Jaime Camil) in the season three premiere that she didn't plan to go through with the surprise pregnancy, her actions hit Alba (Ivonne Coll) hard. After avoiding her strict Catholic mother for several days, the two finally hashed it out in a moving scene in which the two finally agreed to disagree (just as they came to an agreement on Alba's hideous choice in wallpaper.)

Although the storyline began at the end of last season when Xo learned she was pregnant, the dialogue between the two women about abortion, and reproductive rights, comes at a very interesting time. The third and final presidential debate, which took place less than a week ago, featured a heated discussion between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on that very subject that started an eye-opening post-debate discussion online.

"Its just so much, right now, under attack that I feel like its an important [topic]," showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Abortion is an important thing to be talking about, to normalize, to not stigmatize, and to dramatize."

This, however, wasn't Jane the Virgin's first time touching on the subject of abortion. In the pilot episode, when Jane discovers she's pregnant by accidental artificial insemination, she contemplates abortion before deciding to give birth. And years before that, Alba had advised a very young Xo to get an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant with Jane. All this for a show that also deals heavily with religion, and particularly Catholicism.

"If Xo were to have that baby, to me that would be a really strong message that I do not want to send, which is that a fortysomething woman who has raised a child and doesn’t want a baby should have it anyway," Urman says of Xo's decision to go through with the abortion.

"We have a character in the house that thinks quite the opposite [of Xo] so that, I think, lets us have a discussion about it. Instead of discounting that point of view, we're giving value to it as Alba's point of view but then showing a way out of it for this family. It's just looking at it within the microcosm of the family where people have different points of view and how they can push forward past that. Alba says, 'I wish you didn’t do it, but its your choice,' and then they move on."

A big part of that discussion had to do with Xo's known desire not to have any more children, something Urman and the writers specifically laid the groundwork for during the show's second season. It was the reason that she and Rogelio ultimately broke up, and she ended up sleeping with his rival, Esteban, in the first place.

"Xo is not tortured. It is not a tortured abortion. It is not an abortion where she is unclear about what she wants or unclear about her choice. She's very clear and I think most abortions are that. And I feel like that’s an important thing to reflect on TV as well," Urman says. "She has to deal with the fact that somebody in her family doesn’t appreciate that or doesn’t approve of that but that doesn’t change who she is and what her choice is."

THR spoke to Urman about the differences between Jane and Xo's surprise pregnancies, and other hot-button issues she plans to tackle on the series this season.

What were your thoughts from that angle of showing this woman considering an abortion?

 The family is Catholic but they've had many discussions about abortion and abortion is definitely something that they've talked about and have different ideas about and have approached at different moments in their life. Jane in the pilot was considering getting an abortion and decided not to, not because she wanted a baby but because she learned it was Rafael's last sperm sample and this was his only chance to have a biological child. But the question of the pilot was, should she have an abortion? Once she learned that there might be a congenital defect, her mom asked her and at that point, she thought she wouldn’t because she was too far along for her comfort level. But its always been something that they've talked about. Alba told Xo to get an abortion years ago and now regrets it. For us, this is definitely something on our minds and there are so many different points of view, as long as I feel like we treat those points of view with respect, then they can disagree. Ultimately, how they move past that as a family is what ultimately the story is about.

What made you want to have Xo get pregnant and have that discussion once again given that Jane talked about it in the pilot?

Because Jane's was complicated by Rafael's situation. I believe every pregnancy, every person is different, what they want is different and what they believe is different so I don't feel like its something that you just do once and then she chooses to have the baby and that discussion's over. I feel like with Xo, we made a really big deal about her being in a very, very different place.

When you're in the room and you're talking about incorporating these different points of view, do you have writers who are Catholic/religious and can come at it from that perspective?

I have three Catholic writers who, though they might be pro-choice have definitely family members who aren't' and can speak to the complexity of it. But everybody is different.

Its going to be a specific story to Xo, Alba and Jane. It's not representative of everyone. Its representative of this family, in this particular situation with their particular history and their particular relationship between the three women, so I'm trying to dramatize that, and be respectful. Obviously, I'm pro-choice, but I'm not going to be stigmatizing Alba for what she believes. We're just going to see how this family navigates a difference of opinion.

When you're coming into a storyline like this, how concerned are you about offending viewers? Do the network and/or studio have concerns about that? What are those conversations like?

I think they just thought we were going to handle it the way we handle our issues: thoughtfully, hopefully, and something that comes out of character. So, again, I think the more specific you can be in the storytelling then it's not a blanket statement, it's a dramatization of something three women living in a house together might face. The network and the studio, I pitched them this story and the different points of view and they were very supportive. …  I feel like we just try to approach storytelling with compassion. I can't really worry about everybody's different points of view on every different thing that we put out there. I hope that, you know, everyone feels respected. That is something I would want, without necessarily thinking that I'm going to change people's minds who don't think the certain way I do, because that's not at all my goal or possible I don't think.

This isn't your first time being slightly political on the show. Last year, you tackled immigration with Alba's quest to become a legal citizen. Are there other such issues you would like to explore on the show this season?

We're going to be talking about what's happening in Venezuela right now because the original telenovela came from there and I made the family from there. [Venezuela's] in a really precarious position right now with the shortage of electricity and that's going to impact the family as Jane starts to excavate her grandmother's past through her writing. She's going to be exploring her grandmother's history and that's going to pull her into some of the things that are happening in the present and up her awareness of that. We're going to be continuing to discuss immigration and Alba, now she has her green card, she has different opportunities than she had before so she's going to get a new job because now she can work on the books and that will bring in a new environment and just a real sense of pride for her and excitement and a sense of new beginnings. … Our characters will vote, all that kind of stuff.

Jane the Virgin airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on The CW.

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