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John Oliver takes aim at Supreme Court over ‘absolutely horrifying’ decision to overturn Roe

"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver.HBO

John Oliver lambasted the Supreme Court for its ruling Friday that overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, calling the end of constitutional protections for abortion “absolutely horrifying” during the opening of his show on Sunday night.

In a monologue that emphasized the gravity of the situation even more than his usual takes, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” offered a deadly serious assessment, reminding viewers of the consequences of Friday’s ruling.

With the ruling having set off a cascade of anti-abortion legislation that will have an impact on roughly half the states throughout the country, Oliver said that it is “hard to stomach some of the gleeful responses right now.”

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“Make no mistake, this decision is sweeping,” Oliver said. “It says states could limit abortion at all stages of development, phrasing that could mean from the moment of conception onward with no exceptions.”

He criticized the notion that one could just travel to another state that allows the procedure.

“The idea that you can simply seek an abortion in another state is insulting on its face even before you consider that some lawmakers are already openly looking for ways to punish out of state abortions,” Oliver continued. “In some ways, we’re in uncharted territory here.”

While many in recent days have remarked that the overturning of the 1973 decision means the country has returned to a “pre-Roe landscape,” Oliver said that is “not entirely true.”

Although less invasive methods are now available to terminate pregnancies, he noted, there is also an abundance of new ways for “the state to monitor people” as a result of data available in places like a person’s browsing history and text messages, which could all be examined by a prosecutor “if they believe the loss of a pregnancy may have been deliberate.”

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“Any pregnancy loss past an early cutoff can now potentially be investigated as a crime,” Oliver said. But, he added, that is not “the only Pandora’s box that this ruling has opened.”

Oliver cited the concurring opinion penned by Justice Clarence Thomas, in which he indicated that the court should reconsider previous substantive due process precedents. Those rulings include pivotal decisions on the right to contraception and gay rights.

Despite the majority decision stating that the ruling only concerns the right to an abortion and not the other issues, Oliver questioned whether that would be upheld.

He also blasted those who take their word at face value — in particular calling out Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins, who has faced backlash over her votes to confirm both Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch. She has suggested that both misled her on their stance to Roe.

“What kind of idiots would even pretend to believe any reassurances from these justices?” Oliver said. “You’re right. It’s Susan Collins.”

“What the Supreme Court has just done is utterly devastating. The message it sends is pretty clear,” Oliver said. “We don’t care if pregnancy kills you. We don’t care if you don’t want to be pregnant. We don’t care about you at all.”

He said it has been especially “dispiriting” to see so many Democrats treat the end of Roe with “the solemnity of a funeral instead of the urgency of a [f******] cardiac arrest,” noting that the approach of political leadership to abortion rights largely stands in “stark contrast to the boots on the ground who’ve been displaying that urgency for years now.”

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“Time will tell what this week actually was. If it was a permanent setback, a way-station along a further descent into hell, or if it galvanized a movement, and eventually won back everything that we just lost,” Oliver said. “But the only thing I know for sure right now is that this week was heartbreaking, it was enraging, it was a supreme injustice.”


Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.