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John Oliver analyzes how state laws limit women's access to abortion

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HBO

On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explored the topic of abortion, and how state laws are limiting women’s access to proper care. 

Oliver cited a Vox video poll that showed most peoople on the street have individual opinions on abortion, but don’t expect other people to follow their stance. Gallup showed that 81 percent of Americans think that abortion should be legal in at least a few situations; for the other 19 percent, Oliver reused his tactic from his death penalty analysis, promising a cute video at the end of the segment (this time: sloths in a bucket) to make up for the heaviness of the main topic.

Abortion is still legal in the United States thanks to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but Oliver focused on how state laws (known as TRAP laws, targeted regulation of abortion providers) have eroded women’s practical access to abortion clinics. For instance, thanks to strict regulations, the states of Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota are down to one abortion clinic each.

“That’s right, Mississippi now has four times as many s’s as abortion clinics,” Oliver said.

One 2013 Texas law, for instance, requires abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as outpatient centers, and doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. Oliver noted that these stipulations sound positive, but are actually completely unnecessary. One Texas clinic ended up shut down because its hallway was only three feet wide, whereas a hospitals requires eight-feet hallways so two surgical gurneys can pass each other. Proponents of these laws say they’re protecting women’s health, but Oliver cited the American Medial Association saying there is no medical basis for these requirements, especially since most abortions take place in the first trimester of pregnancy and are thus non-surgical procedures. Oliver also pointed out that these same admitting privileges aren’t required of birthing centers.

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“So Texas will shut down an abortion clinic for having walls too close together, but if you want to give birth in a tub surrounded by mood lighting, potpourri, and the music of Bon Iver, no one will say anything other than, ‘Just take it down a notch,’ ” Oliver said. 

Other state regulations include requiring women seeking abortions to view ultrasounds of their fetus, although North Carolina allows women to cover their ears and eyes. Other laws require doctors like Mississippi’s Willie Parker to actively spread misinformation, like abortion carrying a higher risk of breast cancer, despite a lack of medical evidence. 

At the end of the video, Oliver did fulfill his promise, inviting his abortion-opposing viewers back to watch a video of sloths in a bucket. He even brought a real-life sloth to his desk in order to end the night on a positive note. 

“I promised everyone sloths in a bucket, and that is what you are going to see. Although, if you are in that 19 percent, I am going to have to insist you cover your ears and eyes and refuse to listen,” Oliver said.

Watch the full clip above.