[Warning: Spoiler alert for Feb. 21's episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.]
How do you talk about a divisive and hard-hitting topic like abortion laws in the U.S., or more specifically, the particular subset of legislation that makes access to abortion clinics in certain states nearly impossible?
You charm the room - or, in the case of Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, you promise a video of sloths at the end as a prize that, in the end, is a literal bucket of adorable.
On the segment "How is This Still a Thing," which aired Sunday night, Feb. 21, Oliver started off by giving the audience a general primer on the popular stances of the American public regarding both abortion and clinic access. Emphasizing that generally these opinions are "on a spectrum" (i.e., someone who is personally pro-life is generally pro-choice if they conclude that their beliefs should not affect the decision of another), Oliver proceeded to give a general percentage breakdown on stance. According to a Gallup poll conducted in May 2015, 81 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in at least a few circumstances, while 19 percent of the population think it should be outlawed entirely.
After presenting the numbers Oliver continued, "If you are in that 19 percent, you are frankly excused from watching the rest of this [segment]," then quickly promised that if they tuned back in by 11:29 p.m. - roughly 15 minutes later - they'd be privvy to "a video featuring a bucket of sloths" that would, he swore, be "violently delightful."
Oliver then went on to note that 70 abortion clinics located in roughly a dozen different states have shuttered since 2010, and that four states - North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, and Mississippi - only have one clinic each ("That's right: Mississippi now has four times as many s's as it has abortion clinics"). He explained that while Roe v. Wade has made abortion legal in the U.S. since 1973, loophole-like TRAP laws (the acronym for "targeted regulation of abortion providers") curtail access to clinics for women. More importantly, the reason TRAP laws can more or less exist isn't due to Roe v. Wade, but what Oliver calls "the key Supreme Court decision" on the subject: 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which allows states to pass laws that require hoop-jumping for clinic accessibility, unless said laws place "an undue burden" or a "substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion."
As an example, the Last Week Tonight host pointed to a piece of legislation Texan lawmakers passed in 2013 named HB 2, which makes it mandatory for clinics in the state to meet the same building requirements as outpatient surgical clinics. While this seems like a fairly unassuming rubric, it ultimately meant that a clinic in the state had to shut its doors because its hallway wasn't wide enough to accommodate, hypothetically, two passing surgical gurneys, even though, as Oliver noted, that "is not something likely to happen at a small abortion clinic."
He also highlighted that unlike abortion clinics, birthing centers are not held to the same types of stipulations and standards, which, as he inferred, seems like a double standard.
"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.
The comedian went on to include another requirement that has since become a major hot-button issue: requiring women who are considering undergoing the procedure to view ultrasounds of their fetuses. (He then added that in North Carolina, patients are allowed to close their eyes and their ears while undergoing the ultrasound - but only in North Carolina.)
But despite the emotional density of the topic, in the end Oliver gave viewers what he swore to deliver.
"I promised everyone sloths in a bucket, and that is what you are going to see," he said. But before the footage began to play - and before Oliver brought a real live sloth out on stage - the comedian did have one caveat for those tuning back in.
"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 concluded.
Watch John Oliver dissect abortion laws in the video clip below.