Like so many, John Turturro has a personal connection to the protections offered by Roe v. Wade—and strong feelings about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn the ruling. Decades before the landmark 1973 decision, which guaranteed a federal right to abortion, Turturro revealed his grandmother Rosa died while trying to terminate a pregnancy.
“I lost my grandmother because she died during an illegal botched abortion,” Turturro told Rolling Stone. “So that informs me on the whole history of abortion. And I was very interested in that [subject] because the death certificate says ‘manic depressive psychosis — contributory: exhaustion.’ It doesn’t say ‘botched abortion.’”
Turturro said he learned the real story behind his grandmother’s death while exploring his Sicilian heritage for the PBS series Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates. Although Rosa’s public death certificate indicated very little about the end of her life, Turturro’s mother gave him the real story: In 1927, pregnant with a seventh child she knew she couldn’t afford, she tried to induce abortion using an herbal tonic her sister promised would “take care of it.”
“My grandmother went into septic shock that evening, on fire from the poison burning inside,” Turturro said.
Turturro used Rosa’s tragic loss to exemplify the effect restricting abortion access has not just on childbearing people, but their loved ones as well. When his grandmother died, Turturro said, his own mother lost “her mother, her home, her family, her sense of safety and security, and most of her childhood.”
“We have all suffered from women not being in charge of their own bodies — the pregnant women, first and foremost, but also their extended families,” Turturro added. “The right to choose affects us all. A woman must have the right to plan her life as she sees fit. Abortion is a terribly difficult decision for anyone, but it is a personal one and needs to be protected. I wonder what my mother’s life would have been like if abortion had been legal and her mother had the support of a group such as Planned Parenthood. What would have happened had Rosa lived?”
Although Turturro acknowledged he’s far from a celebrity activist, he also made it clear he won’t withhold his true opinions, especially on matters like Roe.
“I’m not an actor who goes and talks about all the political things because I feel like I’m just a regular citizen like everybody else,” Turturro explained. “But I think you can do things in your work that maybe could represent your point of view in the discussion.”