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Undue burdens.
NOT FUNNY

Watch John Oliver explain why abortions are not so much of a right in a lot of America

By Annalisa Merelli

Abortion (and hence, women’s rights), are under threat again in America, after a number of state laws promulgated in the past few years have rendered it nearly impossible to access abortions in several states: Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Missouri only have one abortion clinic serving the whole state, Alabama has no abortion clinics in 93% of its counties, and Texas might soon be left with a whole of 10 abortion clinics to serve millions of women of reproductive age.

This is thanks in particular to a 2013 bill, the House Bill 2 (HB2), which will be examined by the US Supreme Court beginning Mar. 2, in what is arguably the most important abortion-related case since 1992, when it was established that states can regulate abortions (legal in the US since 1973) so long as such regulations don’t cause an “undue burden” on women seeking the procedure. The concept of undue burden—the boundaries of which have been pushed by legislators in several states—is so explained:

An undue burden exists, and therefore a law is invalid, if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.

The bill sets specific regulations for abortion providers that, if upheld, would force at least eight of the current 18 abortion clinic in Texas to close down, and threaten the survival of the remaining few. The bill has unnecessary, structural requirements for the clinics, such as providing expensive surgical room standards for a procedure that does not require them. Further, it demands admitting privileges for the doctors performing the abortions, which, given the reluctance of hospitals in allowing abortions in their facilities, would pose a further limitation.

This essentially requires women to travel and spend more time and money than they can on an abortion, and often puts them in a position where they cannot have one or might recur to unsafe, illegal abortions. This is exactly the kind of burden one might describe as “undue.” The reason why this bill is so important is that, if its constitutionality were upheld, the kind of burden it imposes could be accepted and replicated in other states.

On Feb. 21, John Oliver, who is back with his Last Week Tonight show, highlighted the absurd extents to which this (and other) anti-abortion laws go to make it impossible for a clinic to operate—providing indeed an “undue burden” to women looking to end their pregnancies.

As Oliver says, “abortion cannot just be theoretically legal, it has to be literally accessible.”