Laura Dern discusses abortion carrying a murder charge in death penalty states

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It’s a scary time to be an American, when so many states are passing incredibly strict anti-abortion laws. None have gone into effect yet, but the possibility that Roe v. Wade may be overturned is very real. At the same time, capital punishment is legal in 30 different states. Plus so many people have died from preventable gun violence and absolutely nothing has been done to restrict access to the most deadly firearms. Anti-choice laws aren’t about saving unborn fetuses, they’re about controlling women and controlling access to our bodies. We haven’t covered these stories as much because we’re frankly sick about them. (We talk about it in the opener to our last podcast.) The Republicans cheated and stole elections, we’re getting our basic rights trampled on and things are becoming even worse in this country for women, people of color and immigrants.

Anyway Laura Dern is playing real life death row advocate Elizabeth Gilbert (not the granola self actualization author) in a new movie called Trial By Fire. Gilbert is a Houston playwright who corresponded with a death row inmate convicted of setting a fire in 1991 which killed his three children. She became convinced of his innocence and worked to exonerate him. (You can look it up but I’m not going to post spoilers, even though it’s a real life story.) The movie has some similarities to Dead Man Walking, the 1995 film with Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. The AV Club, which has a new interview with Dern, explains how the case brings up the questionable ethics of the death penalty. Dern is a great advocate for this cause. She mentions how anti-choice laws are particularly hypocritical in states where women would face the death penalty for abortion. The Republicans are nothing if not hypocrites. I always enjoy reading her interviews because she doesn’t pull punches.

AVC: The Innocence Project has exonerated so many people. It’s a big topic to grapple with.
LD: You know, I learned so much. As someone who wanted to see capital punishment abolished, I thought I understood—I thought I understood it on an emotional, empathic level, but I didn’t know the facts. And once you learn the facts, you learn that the states that still have the death penalty are also the states with the highest murder rates. So already, there, it’s not working as a deterrent, if that’s what people think.

I’ve heard so many people say—and somehow put my head around thinking it was true—that “why should we keep these prisoners alive or take care of them when they’ve done these heinous acts?” Like, “Why should we pay for them to live for 50 years in prison?” and blah blah. And then you look at the facts around how much more–I mean, literally, in some cases, five times more—having the death penalty costs a state. So even when you’re arguing based on statistics, it’s just so clear that it is a horror that we still have capital punishment in this country. And the fact that I’m in California, and we have a governor who just suspended the death penalty in California, it’s a very exciting time to have this conversation. Not that the conversation hasn’t been going on for years and years.

AVC: Especially on a film like this, dealing with really heavy, politically charged issues, you could put yourself in a very dark place. But I imagine you just can’t live there all the time.
LD: This film was not an easy film to shoot. Most days we were in prison—active prisons—and there was a lot of heartbreak and a real palpable awareness of wanting it to matter, wanting it to keep the conversation going. It’s amazing how films and television and journalists’ efforts in the pieces they’ve written and newspapers’ efforts—all of these things bleed into a community, and outreach toward justice.

And now that this film is coming out within weeks of Governor Newsom’s opinion, and with the state of Texas using language like “thou shalt not kill” and talking about the moral obligation as a state to ensure that no one unjustly dies [referring to] unborn children, and these abortion laws where women will potentially be up for murder charges [for having an abortion] after six weeks. So thou shalt not kill… but you’re still going to have the death penalty? I mean, let’s get our morality straight. Let’s all get on the same page. What does it mean when we say, “Thou shalt not kill?”

Because what we’ve learned now is that there is a margin of human error, and the Innocence Project alone in its work has exonerated over 200 death row inmates. So we can get it wrong. Innocent people do die. And that’s why in Europe, where [the death penalty] is abolished, they say we have “blood courts” because we are killing people.

AVC: As you mentioned before, your style of acting was influenced by your parents, and you started acting pretty young. Was there ever a time in your life where you considered another career?
LD: No, not since childhood… we’re all learning is that there isn’t just one lane anymore. I’ve got a production company now with my producing partner, Jayme Lemons. I’ve directed, and I’m interested in continuing to support other stories as a producer, as a director—any area of storytelling. I will continue to explore and be excited about that. But in terms of another job job, no. I’m doing the ultimate job currently, which is raising teenagers, which I have no skill at. But they’re raising me as well.

[From The AV Club]

I like what she said about how her teenagers are raising her too. I feel that way as well. I know that if I put that line in the title many more people would comment on this post. We need to talk about how these anti-choice laws are going to affect our children and their children, and we need to keep fighting and keep showing up. I’m saying this for myself too, because I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about it and have been eating my feelings.

Thanks to everyone who joined Stop The Bans rallies yesterday.

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photos credit: WENN

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28 Responses to “Laura Dern discusses abortion carrying a murder charge in death penalty states”

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  1. Elkie says:

    Not to mention that the states with the most restrictive abortion laws also tend to have a death penalty for being born – the highest infant mortality rates in the US.

    Of course, the advantage about caring so much about the unborn is that it doesn’t cost anything – the exact moment that baby needs food, clothing, shelter, medical help, education, etc… they’re no longer unborn and can go f**k themselves…

    • Mel M says:

      Exactly. I made the mistake of reading comments on an Ig post about all these laws being written up. There was this white douche bro going on and on about being pro life and having a responsibility to save these unborn babies and then turning around and saying that he couldn’t care less if a woman does trying to get an illegal abortion and that she deserves it and also it wasn’t his responsibility to pay or contribute to the well being of these babies once they’re born because they aren’t his kids. He also had thoughts about women really actually wanting to have their rapists babies because it’s better for their mental health in the end. Oh and the kicker was that supposedly his sister had just been raped and she was able to take the morning after pill but he was fine with it since it’s still technically legal. How does your brain even think these thoughts are cohesive and rational??? How is it the middle of 2019 and men still have thoughts like it’s 1919?

    • snappyfish says:

      The unborn are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you. Unlike the living they don’t need money, education or childcare. They make you feel good about yourself without actually having to do anything. Once born you can forget about them because they cease to be unborn. The people behind these oppressive bans “love” & advocate for the unborn because they don’t challenge their power, money or privilege. The perfect people to love if you wish, like these politicians do, to claim you love Jesus (looking at you Alabama) but your actions show you clearly dislike the living if they are not “your kind of people”.

      Bless Laura for all her work. These bans are unconstitutional & hateful. This is pandering to the lowest common denominator. Vote for me I don’t let them kill the babies! But to hell with the “babies” once they breathe. Then they are a burden to society if they actually need food, shelter, education or healthcare

  2. Meghan says:

    I love when people are like “you killed your child” Um no my child is currently hanging out in his diaper box because apparently that’s the cool place to be. What I aborted was a 6 week old clump of cells, and I specifically asked to see the ultrasound so I could verify I didn’t have an entire fetus hanging out in me.

    I got into an argument yesterday with a dude who said all PP does is force abortions on women. Yeah no. At first I wanted to have the baby and they gave me info on finding a doctor, taking care of myself, and a pamphlet on adoption. Then when I decided on abortion they asked me no less than 5 times if it was MY decision and my decision alone. I did see a look of panic on the nurses” faces when I asked to see the ultrasound, like maybe I was a crazy person in disguise, but I just wanted to see for myself and they obliged me.

    The end! (Thrilling story I know)

    • Jocey says:

      When I went to a PP clinic to take a pregnancy test many, many years ago, the clinician was like, “Well, as you were expecting [I'd already taken a test at home] the test came back positive. Do you know what you want to do?” and I was like, “I want to terminate the pregnancy” and she gave me a ton of information and resources and told me that when I was ready I could call one of the reputable clinics listed on one of the sheets she gave me to schedule an appointment for a termination. At my actual abortion appointment, I also asked to see the ultrasound image, because I was curious, and if the tech hadn’t (at my request) pointed out the fuzzy, indeterminate shape on the screen I wouldn’t have been able to find it. I was also asked multiple times if anyone was pressuring me to terminate the pregnancy and if it was what I for sure wanted to do.

      Fast forward a decade and I had taken a test at home and wanted to confirm it, so I went to the same PP clinic. The clinician was like, “Well, the test came back positive. Do you know what you want to do?” and I was like “Yay! My partner and I have been trying for a few months.” And she congratulated me and gave me a ton of helpful information about resources available both during pregnancy and postpartum. My child is now delivering an impromptu lecture to her father and I about frogs (did you know that they bounce?).

      Planned Parenthood is awesome, the end.

      • JanetDR says:

        I couldn’t have made it through my teens and early 20s without them. Birth control pills $1 per month.

  3. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Our current state of affairs is horrifying.

  4. CROWHOOD says:

    I keep Wanting to share my thoughts on one aspect of this that I cant Articulate fully but the main issue here is that there is no way for men and women to have equal rights when it comes to pregnancy. Like yes, I do Believe a man has a right to know about decisions that are made regarding a pregnancy he was a part of. But ultimately, even if he wants it and she doesn’t, it’s her decision. Because there is no way for that man to have the baby without the woman. There is no way for him to take on the physical, emotional, socioeconomic and societal tolls that come from a pregnancy. He doesn’t have the risk of dying from it. Or losing his job, or forever changing his entire anatomy. So unfortunately, there’s no equality there. (I’m pro choice, I just Mean unfortunately for everybody there isn’t one.)

    • Harryg says:

      I think it was Jerusha who said here that the fetus should just be moved to a foster womb to grow. Also, people against abortion would be taxed let’s say 2000 dollars extra every year to help these children through early life. We can call it the Republican Tax.

    • Courtney says:

      It’s an inequality for sure, but one made by nature, not by man. Maybe at some point we’ll have the technology to allow for different choices but that’s just not our current reality.

  5. aang says:

    This all such a farce. If they were so interested in stopping abortion they would make birth control free, available in the school nurses office or start a roving OBGYN van that travels around doing exams and handing out pills or implanting IUDs. Give a universal basic income to any woman with a kid under 5. Require retail and other low wage jobs to offer predictable scheduling, same hours and days every week. Make childcare affordable. Make housing affordable. Make education affordable. Require a living wage. Put domestic abusers in jail. All and any of these things will bring down abortion rates.

  6. A reader says:

    It’s almost given as a fact that Cameron Willingham did not set the fire that killed his children and the state of Texas executed an innocent man. Reading about that case will break your heart.

    And i can’t even comment on the abortion thing because it makes me too ragey.

    • Sparrow says:

      @ A reader, Thanks a lot for the spoiler, especially when the article specifically avoided this. Most people don’t know anything about the case. Some people…

    • Leslie says:

      I realize it’s a real life case, but spoilers. The article specifically didn’t mention spoilers for the people who didn’t want to look up spoilers. No need to put spoilers in the comments.

      • Lillian says:

        Ehhh, for the “spoiler” crowd, whether it’s one way or another, we can probably engage in a fellow human’s story with interest and an open mind, (and in some cases have it even still be a mystery, according to ourselves) in a way that makes that person more than simply “consumable entertainment” (I know, I know, I chose to comment on a gossip blog. Just a thought;)

  7. Wolfie88 says:

    Soooo there should be an upswing of women committing suicide as an only solution on the way?
    Forcing a women to carry a rape child just screams she’d be the ideal mom after all that trauma she was put through. Teenage girls too will see no way out. Forced to carry an unwanted child to place up for an adoption? As if child services and the adoption process of ill trained staff is currently doing a fab job placing children as we speak. More kids in the system. YAy! A man gets 5-7 years for raping a woman, but a woman has a life sentence yeah that seems sooo fair! When do they get to the part of pedos and rapists being castrated/sterilized? Then there’s the future rallys from the very same people “oh it’s so tragic to see a child neglicted and raised in proverty and violience’.” Welp, maybe if we didn’t take away a woman’s choice for her own damn body, we’d spare tax payers, quit sweeping kids in a broken system with unproperly trained and overworked staff and harsher laws for pedos and rapists and anyone in connection with child abuse. But nah, give that fetus the right to bare arms in the future. This is ‘merica!

    • Dara says:

      A life sentence, or in too many cases, a death sentence. The maternal mortality rate in the United States has been growing at an alarming rate, in some states it’s now on par with some of the poorest countries in the world. Low-income and minority women are far more likely to die than well-off white women (no surprise). Oh, and the state with the worst mortality rate? Georgia.

    • E.B. Mann says:

      Five to seven years? That would be a godsend. These days, it seems a lot of rapists are getting off with time served. (Chances are it was a “consensual rape” though, right? So, no worries.)

  8. delorb says:

    A lot of people who are against the death penalty never touch upon the real issue. And that is our (in)justice system. The death penalty never lied on the witness stand. The death penalty never forced a fake confession. The death penalty never planted evidence or intimidated witnesses.

    If we are going to get rid of the death penalty because innocent people are on death row, why not get rid of life sentences and 60-year sentences, etc.? There are plenty of people languishing in prison who are innocent. Why not get rid of prisons altogether since there is a chance that one innocent person will find themselves there?

    The fact is, one is more likely to serve time if they’re poor, have mental issues and/or are uneducated. And most of that time is spent in jail just waiting on a trial since most poor people can’t afford bail. Fact is police and prosecutors are rarely if ever charged with malfeasance when they knowingly charge and convict the innocent. Getting rid of the death penalty won’t change these facts.

    As for abortions, most young women have already spoken at the voting booth. Many don’t care about this issue. I can remember last year so many young women denying that they are feminists (even though most didn’t seem to know what that meant). Perhaps we should allow that not every woman is pro-choice?

  9. Jaded says:

    “Thou shall not kill”. That’s rich when mass murders of teenagers, children, Muslims and LGBT people are taking place on a weekly basis. The hypocrisy of these morons is unconscionable.

  10. maude says:

    It would be interesting to poll some of the political figures who support &/or are behind this anti-abortion crusade.

    How many of them support “reasonable” maternity leave, in line with other industrialized countries (UK, Canada, etc.)? How many of them support providing universal healthcare in line with other industrialized countries? …………………….I thought so.