Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (one of my fave shows) just debuted the first half of its fourth season, which is as amazing and hilarious as ever. As usual, the writing and storylines are spot-on societal commentaries that tell us what we need to hear, thanks in part to creator and my personal queen, Tina Fey.
In episode six of the Netflix original series, Kimmy’s former boss, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), is approached by her ex-stepdaughter, Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula), after discovering that she might be pregnant. Naturally, the details are hilarious (Xan’s boyfriend is Cap Tylenol, heir to the Tylenol fortune), but the situation is handled with an honesty and sincerity that hasn’t been seen on television nearly enough.
Xan is a usually cool-headed, sarcastic character, but she appears uncharacteristically nervous when she comes to Jacqueline for guidance as a motherly figure. “As a pretty white woman, you have many options,” Jacqueline tells her. “You could keep the baby and say it’s your assistant. You could terminate the pregnancy on HBO and win a Peabody for it.”
It was super smart of the show to talk about this in a way that acknowledges Xan’s privilege. (Especially that thinly-veiled reference to Jemima Kirke’s character on Girls.) When college-aged women become pregnant, a lot of their options really do rely on how much money they have and what community they are a part of. Xan is the daughter of a rich businessman, who is no doubt paying for her to go to NYU. She doesn’t have a job and could easily access the money to support a baby, or have an abortion.
For college women in the United States, it isn’t nearly that simple. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 61% of women who have children after enrolling in community college end up dropping out. Some universities have support for pregnant students, but many others do not. A survey by Students for Life found that only 15% of college students had seen ads on campus regarding support for pregnant students.
A few sitcoms have also tackled the difficult subject of unwanted pregnancy in the past few years. Season 2 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend showed paralegal Paula getting an abortion, and on season 3 of Jane the Virgin, Jane’s mother Xo has an abortion after becoming pregnant. Both of these characters are adult women who already have children, which breaks the stereotype of only younger women dealing with unwanted pregnancy. But both of these characters are also pretty well-off financially. While it is never easy for a woman to deal with unwanted pregnancy, it certainly makes the options more clear when you have the money to support any decision you make. According to the CDC, only 3.6% of abortions in 2014 terminated the pregnancies of women over age 40. The highest percentage (32.2%) were by women ages 20-24, closer to Xan’s age. In 2011-2012, the average cost of a gestational abortion was about $480, which is more than many women can afford.
Xan didn’t end up being pregnant at all, but she became closer to Jacqueline throughout the process and was able to educate us about how complicated and intersectional pregnancy options can be.
Kimmy Schmidt always tackles issues from a smart and well-rounded point of view. The new season is streaming on Netflix now.