Alert: The following contains spoilers for the finale of And Just Like That Season 2. Trigger warning — pregnancy loss.
The first time Sex and the City dealt with abortion was back in 2001, during the show’s original run, in what proved to be a memorable crossroads for Miranda. Despite her lazy ovary and her then on-again, off-again boyfriend Steve having just had an orchiectomy (“He has one ball!”), their “pity f*ck” results in a pregnancy that Miranda plans to abort. This development causes Carrie and Samantha to discuss their past abortions (Carrie has had one, Samantha two), which in turn brings up issues for Charlotte, who is struggling to conceive. Regardless, Charlotte, Carrie, and Samantha show up to support their friend in her decision, although Miranda ultimately swerves and opts to continue with the pregnancy.
This time around, on the reboot And Just Like That, it’s one of the new characters, Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker), who finds herself faced with a surprise pregnancy. Though many of the new characters brought in to diversify and modernize AJLT lack fleshing out, Lisa has perhaps had the most significant storyline that doesn’t hinge on her relationship with Charlotte, whose kids go to the same school as Lisa’s.
All season, Lisa has lamented juggling her burgeoning career as a documentary filmmaker, which had largely stalled as she raised her three kids, with her husband Herbert’s (Chris Jackson) move into politics. Lisa was ultimately the one who encouraged Herbert to make this change, despite the extra burden it would place on her in caring for their kids and home. So it was puzzling when, in episode nine, Lisa showed up to one of Herbert’s political events and revealed to him that she was pregnant. Both characters appeared to have shocked-but-still-beaming looks on their faces.
However, in last week’s penultimate episode, we start to get an inkling that Lisa isn’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of another child. She confides as much to Charlotte; Lisa and Charlotte have had similar career trajectories this season as Charlotte returned to work. “I think you can do this,” Charlotte says when Lisa expresses doubt. (In contrast to Charlotte’s initial reaction to Miranda’s pregnancy, she is sympathetic towards Lisa and offers her space to lament how a pregnancy might derail her career.)
This mirrors Lisa’s late-night conversation with Herbert. “If anyone can do this, you can. And I’ll be here to help,” he says, which really sums up the division of childcare labor that occurs in many, if not most, cis-hetero parents’ relationships: The birth-giving parent is saddled with the majority of work, while the (usually) male partner “helps” raise their own children. Cue the “babysitting” their own kids cliche.
“You barely help me with the kids we already have,” Lisa retorts, bringing up the vasectomy she asked him to get after the birth of their youngest child, which he conveniently let fall by the wayside because, apparently, the only people discussing safe sex in this show are teenagers.
This prompts Herbert to ask whether they should be having “a different conversation,” though what that conversation is is never named: a far cry from the aforementioned discussion in Sex and the City proper.
Unfortunately, it’s par for the course when it comes to the depiction of pregnancy and the possibility of abortion onscreen. Steph Herold, MPH, research analyst at University of California San Francisco for the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health‘s Abortion Onscreen project, tells Scary Mommy that although abortion has been depicted onscreen since 1916 (!), it’s “striking how often abortion isn’t brought up as an option for an unwanted or mistimed pregnancy,” in shows such as Friends, Desperate Housewives and Gilmore Girls, compared to how common it is in everyday life.
“You’ll notice that most of those shows are not contemporary, which is why it’s shocking to me that And Just Like That couldn’t even use the word ‘abortion,'” Herold continues.
An unfortunate trope of onscreen pregnancy is a miscarriage occurring before an abortion can. This has been shown on everything from Girls to Grey’s Anatomy, the latter of which has since done a lot of groundbreaking work showing the realities of abortion and restricted access to it in this country.
And Just Like That is the latest to use that trope, as Lisa reveals early in the season finale that her unexpected pregnancy has ended with a miscarriage.
Instead of And Just Like That taking the opportunity to make a political statement amidst the fall of Roe v. Wade á la P-Valley, Station 19, or the aforementioned Grey’s Anatomy, all we get is a throwaway reference to the rich, privileged Lisa being “grateful” that she has that option, but that she “can’t” utilize it, even though she is obviously vexed about being pregnant.
It’s important to note that Lisa is Black, as well as an older woman who already has kids, identity markers that put her within the demographics of the majority of people who get abortions.
“There are so few representations of women of color characters having abortions, so few representations of moms having abortions,” Herold says. Depicting Lisa choosing an abortion “would’ve been a huge contribution to the canon of onscreen abortion stories… She is a character committed to telling Black women’s stories — why not Black women’s abortion stories, birth stories, miscarriage stories? Why not put that in the context of maternal mortality, economic hardship, medical racism?” (At least Miranda, a white woman, was given the autonomy to make a choice, even though it might not have been the logical one for her character.)
Reproductive rights might be under threat, but that has never stopped people from seeking them out, especially an upwardly mobile mother with means. To not even utter the possibility is a disservice to the character, the show, and the people watching who might find themselves in that very position.