A recent episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” tackled insidious abortion laws and their devastating impact on women nationwide. In typical Oliver fashion, the segment was simultaneously educational, heartbreaking, hilarious and infuriating. “Wherever you are on the spectrum, whether you believe, like me, that women have the right to choose, or whether you believe abortion should only be allowed in a few circumstances, then this story should concern you,” said Oliver.
He then went on to explain how new laws have led to the closure of approximately 70 abortion clinics in a dozen states since 2000. Four states — North Dakota, Mississippi, Missouri and South Dakota — are down to one abortion clinic each. Oliver deadpanned, “Mississippi now has four times as many s’s as abortion clinics.”
The Emmy winner spoke about the significance of the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, and the vague ruling that states can create restrictions on abortions so long as they don’t amount to an “undue burden… [that places] a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion…”
He interrogates TRAP laws — Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers — that are passed under the false pretenses of protecting women’s health. But do these laws put an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion services? The answer is a resounding yes, and Oliver lays out why that’s the case.
Clips from Dawn Porter’s “Trapped” are interspersed throughout the segment. The documentary illustrates how TRAP laws infringe on women’s reproductive rights and make abortion procedures inaccessible.
Porter told Women and Hollywood that she wants “Trapped” to show audiences “that they cannot be complacent.” She added, “I love the line from one of the clinic owners, who says something to the effect of, ‘No one thinks they are going to need an abortion.’ I want people to think about what they would do if the clinics around them were closed.”
“Trapped” made its world premiere at Sundance in January, where it won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking. The film opens in theaters March 4 and will air on PBS in June.
The case of Whole Women’s Health v. Cole goes to the Supreme Court today. The lawsuit (rightfully) claims that a Texas (TRAP) law, HB2, is unconstitutional. It puts an “undue burden on women,” limiting their access to abortions in the state. A ruling is expected in June.
It is impossible to overstate the significance of this case. Its outcome will dictate the future of women’s reproductive health — and women’s freedom.
Check out the “Last Week Tonight” episode as well as a trailer for “Trapped” below.