Wound up in a messy knot of religion, politics, gender, and healthcare is abortion, one of the most divisive subjects in our nation right now. Abortion has always been tricky for television shows to tackle, and especially given the impending conservative political climate about to fall on America, it’s risen from a hot-button issue to a scalding one. But in the face of this controversy, several TV shows have to turned the issue on its head all coincidentally within the span of a few weeks.
Historically, long-running television dramas would depict abortion as a major arc in an episode or season. The decision would be treated weightily, and episodes focusing on abortion tended to take on the preachy feel of an after school special. In contrast to that, recent episodes of Jane the Virgin, You’re the Worst, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have all left to moralizing by the wayside and instead portrayed abortions as matter-of-fact decisions that woman have had to make in order to do the right thing for themselves and their families. And most importantly of all, each abortion served only as a subplot, occurring in the background with each episode revolving around a different main issue.
As the only hourlong drama of the bunch, Jane the Virgin understandably lent the most weight to the subject. But notably that weight was not on Xiomara’s decision to have an abortion, but instead on coming to terms with telling her Catholic mother Alba about the procedure. Having spent a large chunk of the previous season reiterating the fact that she doesn’t want more children, Xiomara finds herself testing positive for pregnancy after a one-night stand with a man that she doesn’t want in her life. Xiomara gets the abortion and does not feel guilty about her decision, but she does grapple with how to break the news to Alba. When she tells her, the mother and daughter begin to fight, but in the end, Alba comes to accept her daughter’s decision and they move on together.
True to its blunt style, You’re the Worst made the rationale surrounding Lindsay’s recent abortion even less emotionally driven. After Lindsay (rightfully) realizes that she would not make an ideal mother and that she actually cannot stand her boyfriend Paul, she wistfully has one last meal where she can “eat for two” with bestie Gretchen and they set off to get her abortion as if it were between grocery shopping and doing laundry on a list of errands. To drive the point home further, a pro-life protestor even sits Lindsay down for a discussion as she makes her way into the clinic, and after hearing about her situation, the protestor admits that she agrees abortion is the best option for Lindsay in this case.
Finally, a mere days after these other two episodes of TV, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend featured what is most likely the most passing reveal of an abortion of a main character in television history. After Paula discovers she’s pregnant, she resigns herself to put her dreams of enrolling in law school on hold as she and her husband realize that they are already struggling to raise their two children and maintain a budget. But after a judge commends Paula on her impressive legal ability, she decides that it’s about time she start prioritizing her ambitions, and both her family and friends are shown to support her decision when in a quick scene we learn that Paula got an abortion and submitted her application to law school.
The shift in tone from weepy to matter-of-fact surrounding abortion would be refreshing in just one show, but coincidentally occurring in a similar fashion on three separate shows at the exact same time, it’s barometric of population that is well past religion and politics encroaching on a woman’s individual right to make the decision that is right for her. At such a tense and frightening time for the reproductive rights of women in America, it’s at least somewhat comforting to know that we can escape into television for an unsentimental depiction of a scientific procedure that has helped thousands of women in this country live better lives.