John Oliver Nails the Fatal Flaw in Alabama’s IVF Ban

Alabama’s Supreme Court ruling last week that frozen embryos fertilized in test tubes legally qualify as living, breathing human beings sent Republicans scrambling to clarify their positions so as not to lose votes from women in the 2024 elections—and John Oliver wasn’t about to let them get away with it.

On Last Week Tonight, Oliver said equating in vitro fertilization (IVF) with actual people was “wrong for a bunch of reasons—mainly if you freeze an embryo, it’s fine. If you freeze a person you have some explaining to do.”

But the Alabama court ruling carries “massive implications” nationwide, as an estimated 2 percent of Americans are born through IVF. The ruling prompted many of that state’s fertility clinics to immediately stop treatments out of fear they could be sued for wrongful death for any unused, discarded or destroyed embryos. That, in turn, prevents countless couples from continuing their efforts to have kids. “IVF cycles take weeks of careful monitoring and expensive treatments. You can’t just hit pause and wait out a court case,” Oliver said.

The case provoking the “seismic decision,” meanwhile, has a wild origin story, resulting from a patient who accessed the freezers inside a clinic and accidentally dropped some vials, destroying them. “And while that accident is genuinely horrible, someone wandering into a lab and dropping frozen embryos just isn’t murder. If anything, it sounds like the script from a pretty tasteless Mr. Bean sequel,” Oliver said, accompanied by a graphic of Rowan Atkinson in the fake film, Mr. Bean’s Diagnosis Eggative. Tagline: “Embry-uh-oh.”

The judge’s ruling falls in line with far-right theocratic efforts to ban abortion and reproductive rights for women across the country, but as Oliver pointed out, this isn’t helping Republicans on the campaign trail. Former South Carolina governor and presidential candidate Nikki Haley, for example, had to backpedal after initially reacting to the ruling by saying: “When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about … a life.”

Oliver then played a clip of Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) seemingly grasping the logical flaw in real time while answering questions from reporters on Capitol Hill.

“I was all for it,” Tuberville said initially when asked. “We need to have more kids.”

A follow-up question wondering what this means for prospective parents in Alabama had the senator trying to brush it off, replying: “Well, that’s for another conversation.” But after some prodding Tuberville had no idea how to address women who now cannot access their IVF treatments.

“Well. Well, that’s a hard one. It really is. It’s really hard. ‘Cause again, you want people to have that opportunity.”

“Guess what, Tommy?” Oliver replied after the clip ended. “I’ve got great news. Since your political philosophy seems to begin and end with ‘we need more kids,’ you’ll be thrilled to know that thanks to a judge in Alabama there’s now whole freezers full of them. Go play with all those frosty kids, Senator! Or maybe that’s not what you had in mind when you think of children, which is exactly the fucking point here!”

Oliver said even former President Donald Trump is trying to have it both ways, appealing to women publicly on social media this past week in support of IVF, while secretly hatching plans to enact a 16-week national abortion ban. Trump’s supporters also are hoping to use the 1873 Comstack Act—criminalizing the shipment of abortion equipment, among other things—to convince judges to make abortion bans effective without needing to get the new Congress to pass a bill on it. But they don’t want potential swing voters to know about that before November.

“There are politicians currently desperately trying to distance themselves from extreme policies that they have enabled,” Oliver said. “You can say we’re not trying to ban or burn books, but that’s what you’re doing. You can say we just want more kids but you’re making life incredibly hard for people, including those who desperately want them.”

“Burning books and ending IVF are the natural endpoints of the extreme policies they’ve held hands with, and if they are not at least willing to own those consequences, then they can, in the words of what I believe to be this country’s greatest public speaker…”

At which point he replayed a clip from an earlier segment in which elderly West Virginia women read aloud sexually explicit passages in televised legislative hearing on a bill that would impose criminal penalties for schools and libraries containing books with explicit language: “Eat a butthole.”

Oliver’s retort: “Well said. Well said, indeed.”

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