Abortion Ruling: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses the leaked draft opinion that looks set to overturn Roe v. Wade, how we got to this point, and where we may be headed.
Abortion Ruling: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 9 Episode 10
Aired on May 8, 2022

Segment: Leaked draft opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and 2022 Philippine presidential election

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John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight.” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. And look, it has been a truly terrible week, one that started with two Jared Letos at the met gala, and then somehow managed to get worse from there, to the point we’re actually going to do something unusual right now, and that is, two main stories. And our first main story tonight concerns the fact that this week saw the leak of a draft opinion written by justice Samuel Alito that looks set to strike down Roe v. Wade. And while the fate of roe may not have been a surprise, the draft itself was still a horror show.

The 67-page draft opinion is clear, sharp, and scornful, declaring in its opening paragraphs that Roe versus Wade “must be overruled” and that the 1972 ruling “was egregiously wrong from the start.” Alito dismisses the argument in Roe versus Wade that the right to choose abortion is part of the constitutional guarantee of liberty and privacy, insisting “the inescapable conclusion is that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.”

John: Okay, but even if that were true, which, by the way, fuck off, the framers probably left off the specific right to abortion because they couldn’t anticipate it being such a massive concern. I don’t know why these particular individuals didn’t have abortion on their minds, there must be some explanation. I just can’t quite place the exact reason, but it’s on the tip of my penis. [Laughter] And look, Alito wasn’t just deferring to the constitution, he repeatedly cited some other notable sources, too, like 17th century jurist sir Matthew Hale who once described abortion as a “great crime.” But that is not all that hale thought — he also argued that a husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed upon his wife, sentenced two women to death for witchcraft, and argued young women were the ruin of families, because they, and, I quote, “learn to be bold” and “talk loud.” And while those beliefs might earn you a Netflix comedy special called, “Trigger This” they should absolutely disqualify you as a scholarly reference on the matter of reproductive rights. And look, this isn’t the first time we’ve talked about abortion on this show. In fact, the first time we talked about it in depth, we rewarded anyone for sticking to the end of the story with a video of sloths playing in a bucket that was almost criminally joyful. And if you’re expecting something similar this time around, I’ve got bad news for you, those sloths are dead now. All of them, two from heroin. It’s time to grow up. [Laughter] Because we need to be able to talk about abortion like adults. Because when, as seems inevitable, this ruling becomes official, there will be immediate and devastating consequences. And it’s worth taking some time tonight to talk about a few things: what this ruling means, how we got to this point, and where we go now. And when it comes to what this means, it’s catastrophic. It’ll quickly trigger bans on abortion in these 22 states. And if you are still unaware of just how ubiquitous a procedure this is, an estimated 25% of women have an abortion, and 6 in 10 of them are already parents. Some who get abortions are survivors of rape or incest, others might need one for medical reasons, but also, just to be clear: some will be seeking an abortion because they fucking want one. And this is very much about them, too. This a fight for people’s right to have control over their bodies. It’s about bodily autonomy. And the only time it’s okay to argue against that is if the body in question belongs to Elmo. Because then, it is actually fine. [Laughter] He literally can’t function unless someone else is arm-fucking him from below. But anything beyond that example is just not okay. [Laughter] And some conservatives have argued that the reaction this week has been hysterical — that this is just returning the issue to the states, and that people do still have a choice.

This is not an opinion, by the way, that is going to undo abortion in this country. States may put some more restrictions on it, but people have the right to leave. They can go live somewhere else where it’s more of a free for all and they can do whatever they want.

John: Okay, first, “where it’s more of a free-for-all?” Let’s just get one thing straight. If you move to Delaware, you’re not in some bacchanalian, buy-one-get-one-free abortion paradise. You’re just in Wilmington. I just don’t want anyone to be disappointed when they visit. But also, it’s not about merely having the right to go somewhere else. It’s about whether you have the resources and ability to do that. And many may not, with this disproportionately affecting those with disabilities, or who are transgender, immigrants, or people of color. And the thing is, even with just the existing laws that have been recently passed, abortions had become increasingly difficult to get. Just watch as one woman in Texas learned what getting an abortion would entail for her after her state passed its so-called “fetal heartbeat” law last year.

You’re measuring at 6.1 weeks today, but we do see fetal cardiac activity on ultrasound. So, as of September 1st in Texas, what that means is that you are ineligible to have an abortion in the state of Texas right now. Your next options would be traveling out of state to get the procedure done.

I didn’t even know that I was pregnant. I kind of just took a test. I’m six weeks and one day pregnant. I’m not ready to have another kid. I have two other little ones that I take care of, by myself. So this kind of was very unexpected. Other forms of birth control failed me, and now it looks like I’m jumping through more hoops in order to keep our lives going.

John: Six weeks and a day, and she can’t get an abortion. For most people, that’s a period that is two weeks late. And your period could be two weeks late for any number of reasons: maybe you’re tired, or traveling, or had a change in diet or exercise, or maybe you’re just dealing with the stress of living in a misogynistic theocracy run by five of the biggest weirdos in the country, including justice beer pong here, and justice “my wife helped plan a coup and all I got was no consequences whatsoever.” Now, in that woman’s particular case, she was able to take a loan and drive all the way to Oklahoma to get an abortion. And as awful as this sounds, she was actually lucky, because now, that is no longer possible. Just this week, Oklahoma’s governor signed a Texas-style abortion ban into law, which is now officially one of the worst things that Oklahoma has ever produced, and I’ll remind you, it also gave the world dr. Fucking Phil. [Laughter] Given that half of those who have abortions are below the poverty line, with an additional 1/4 very close to it, many will be facing limited options. One estimate is that, in the year after the ruling, there will be roughly 75,000 people who want, but can’t get, abortions, and will give birth instead. And inevitably, some of those people will die, because pregnancy is a major medical event. Already, those living in states with the most restrictive abortion policies — and thus the least access to them — were found to be more likely to die while pregnant or shortly thereafter. Look, I know this is all extremely grim. But it is now worth taking a moment on exactly how we got to this point, especially as some have been telling a slightly incomplete story this week. Just listen to Chuck Schumer, pointing the finger of blame firmly in one direction.

This isn’t your grandfather’s republican party, America. It’s Donald Trump’s republican party.

John: Well, hold on there. Because in what way is this not your grandfather’s republican party? It has been advocating for this exact outcome for decades now. In fact, I would be willing to bet that if your grandfather died in the ’70s, came back to life right now, and scanned the news, the first thing he’d say is that the current republican party sounds exactly like the one he remembers. [Laughter] Actually, the first thing he’d say is, “who’s Elon Musk?” [Laughter] To which you’d say, “he’s a rich asshole who wants to own Twitter.” To which he’d say, “what’s Twitter?” And you’d say, “it’s basically a massive public toilet that people shit their bad opinions into all day long, but at least Cher is on there too!” To which he’d reply, “you mean Sonny’s wife?” And you’d say, “yeah” because you don’t have time to fill him in on the divorce, much less the accident, to which he’d say, “how’s Sonny doing, by the way?” To which you’d say, “oh, he’s great, he’s very healthy!” To which he’d reply, “does he still have the mustache?” And you’d say, “oh, you betcha!” Because at this point, you’re way too deep into the lie to admit to your resurrected grandpa that Sonny Bono died by skiing into a tree. But then, after all that, he’d definitely look at you and say that the current republican party sounds exactly like the one that he remembers. [Laughter] Because it does. This is just not a recent development at all. Because while, yes, Trump did pick 1/3 of this court, including a seat for Gorsuch that was stolen for him, that was the result of decades of work by antiabortion forces. Long before trump ever even considered running for office, conservatives were openly announcing their intention to overturn Roe. In fact, the very day the Roe decision was handed down, the strategizing against it had already begun. Just watch this news report from that day, featuring a lawyer talking about a lawsuit he was supporting that could overturn Roe.

What about the child’s right? You know, when you talk about the woman’s right, you’re talking about 1/3 of the rights involved. The mother, the father, and the child. Somebody’s morality, or lack of it, is certainly imposed upon the unborn children who are killed.

John: Wow. Women have 1/3 of the rights involved. Honestly, that is kind of perfect. Because if there’s one thing we love to do in America, it’s turn everyone who isn’t a straight white man into a fucking fraction. That is something that truly is “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.” But arguments like that are why some democrats, like representative Bella Abzug, argued in the wake of the roe decision that congress still needed to quickly pass legislation codifying the right to an abortion. And she was absolutely right. But, of course, they didn’t do that. Nor did they do it as the antiabortion movement kicked into high gear in the late 1970s, with the support of evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, who helped elevate the abortion issue as a way of motivating conservative voters to the polls. They didn’t even do it as antiabortion legislators managed to pass a thousand restrictions into law at the state level. All that time, too many democratic leaders shied away from engaging in that fight, or were squeamish in their defense of abortion. Bill Clinton, for instance, argued that it should be “safe, legal and rare,” which cast abortion as a regrettably necessary evil, not a cornerstone of comprehensive health care. And while later, Barack Obama campaigned on passing the freedom of choice act, enshrining the right to abortion into law, when he was reminded of that promise a hundred days into his presidency, he wasted no time distancing himself from it.

The freedom of choice act is not my highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on.

John: Okay, except that’s just ridiculous. Partly because this is something a majority of Americans do agree on. Polls consistently show that around 2/3 of Americans support the Roe v. Wade decision. 2/3! Presidents can’t even get an approval rating that high, unless there are, like, two 9-11s. [Laughter] It’s called an 18-22, and if we’re honest, it might actually be coming. And that’s sadly been emblematic of democrats’ approach, offering vague statements in support, while abortion’s been specifically under attack. And all the while, republicans have focused on this issue with relentless determination. Here’s Jerry Falwell, right after Alito was appointed to the court, taking a victory lap following a ruling that upheld the ban on a specific abortion procedure.

That is the culmination, for me, of about 35 years of work. I don’t think we have five votes on Roe v. Wade. I think we are probably one or two votes short.

As we talked that last week of his life, Falwell seemed to recognize that his battle to end all abortions would have to be won by the next generation of god’s warriors.

My children are more likely to see this victory won than I am. I think we’re 50 years away. We’ve got to just stay with it, stay with it, stay with it and never give up.

John: Wow, even the truly magnificent sight of Jerry Falwell in a coffin somehow still doesn’t make that go down any easier. Because Falwell was actually pessimistic in his prediction there. They achieved that victory 35 years ahead of his 50-year schedule. And that’s actually not the only thing he was wrong about in that interview, because he also said he’d been praying for another 20 years of life, despite only having about one week of it left. So I guess at the very least we now know God didn’t want to listen to any more of Jerry Falwell’s bullshit either. And it’s important to know, conservatives aren’t remotely done here. They’ve already embarked on the next fight, with Louisiana just this week advancing legislation that would allow prosecutors to charge those who get abortions, or provide them, with homicide. That bill, like antiabortion legislation in several other states, even defines personhood as beginning from the moment of fertilization, which would arguably criminalize in vitro fertilization and forms of birth control. And all this is happening, even as other countries are expanding reproductive rights. Even Ireland is now more progressive on abortion than some U.S. states. And if you’re not up on your Irish history, that was not always the case! [Laughter] and that’s as much as I’ll weigh in on Irish history — because I sound like this. [Laughter] And it’s not just them. Other predominantly catholic countries, like Argentina, Mexico and Colombia have also significantly expanded abortion rights. Just two months ago, Colombia won a massive court victory, to huge celebrations.

This is historic. It brings us such happiness. Because little by little we are changing our history. We finally succeeded in having them allow us to decide over our bodies. We fought for this for many years, and clandestine abortions took the lives of so many women.

John: That is truly inspiring, and also: quick shout out to the individual who made a crocheted ski mask with the letters “ACAB.” [Laughter] let this be a lesson that you absolutely don’t want to fuck with someone who has the patience, attention to detail, and sustained anger to crotchet their resentment into a hand-made garment. That is stamina. That is someone in the fight for the long haul. [Laughter] So clearly, we in the states have a lot of work to do right now, both in the short and the long term. And let me start with those in the most immediate danger: people who need an abortion in states where bans are about to be in effect. You still have options available to you, and one good way to find out what they are is to go to the website It has lots of info, including what’s permitted where you live, and where you can find clinics and appropriate resources. And if you’re struggling financially, one of those resources might be an abortion fund, which can help cover your expenses. If you want to access or support those funds, there are lots out there, like the Brigid Alliance, which helps abortion patients who are traveling long distances to reach their appointments, and the Lilith and Yellowhammer funds, both of which help women on the ground in impacted states. But these are clearly just stopgap solutions to deal with an immediate crisis. Long term, we need elected officials to stop tiptoeing around the issue of abortion and take steps to properly safeguard it. The dream version of this would be a constitutional amendment that’d support people’s fundamental rights to make personal decisions about contraception, pregnancy, marriage, and family life. But until then, we are going to need other legislation at the state and federal level. And while we’re at it, we may now also need to show up all the other rights supposedly guaranteed by supreme court rulings — from voting rights to gay marriage — because the fact is, under the current supreme court, your basic rights today could become crimes tomorrow. And there are actually some small opportunities on the horizon for you. In at least these four states, abortion is going to be on the ballot this year. And I know that you’d probably rather eat shards of glass than be told to vote one more time. Especially if you’ve been keeping up your end of the deal: showing up to the polls, and holding your nose to vote for a candidate you may not even like, while enduring thousands of texts screaming, “it is the most important election of your lifetime, donate $20 to the DNC right now.” And you didn’t text “stop 2 quit” once, no matter how much you wanted to, and he wanted to throw your phone in the fucking river. And I also get why “just vote” is an infuriatingly insufficient slogan, when voting rights themselves are under siege. I cannot defend the system we currently have. But it is, unfortunately, the one we’ve got right now. So electoral victories are going to be critical here. But they also must be followed by concrete actions by those we elect. Because republicans, if nothing else, just grimly demonstrated what committed action can actually achieve. They never accepted Roe v. Wade as final. They played the long game, and not always fairly. But they rallied their base and relentlessly held their party leaders accountable, whether they liked those leaders or not. And then, crucially, those leaders delivered for them — because they understood that voting is only meaningful if the people who win actually do what they fucking promise you! Anti-choice advocates worked really hard, for a really long time, to ensure Roe would not be permanent. But the thing is, its undoing doesn’t have to be, either. This week, we’ve all been reminded of what the most marginalized people in this country have known for years: that freedoms are never guaranteed — they are hard-won and they are easily lost. Progress requires a consistent, sustained struggle, a willingness to disrupt everyday life, and actual courage from the people that we choose to lead us. In short, we all badly need to have the same anger and the same willingness for a long-haul fight as the world’s most hardcore knitter.


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