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This OB-GYN Was Terrified For Her Sufferers Who Wanted Abortions. Then She Grew to become One.


Texas OB-GYN Austin Dennard reveals what a future underneath a Republican president would do to reproductive rights in America. 

Amanda Zurowski, Dr. Austin Dennard and Taylor Edwards put together to enter the courtroom room on the Texas Supreme Courtroom in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 28, 2023, the day the Courtroom heard arguments in a case introduced on behalf of twenty-two ladies who had been denied abortions regardless that they’d severe problems with their pregnancies that had been in some instances life-threatening. (Suzanne Cordeiro / AFP through Getty Pictures)

This text was initially printed in The Copper Courier.

Dr. Austin Dennard is an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) in Dallas, Texas. You will have heard about her participation in a lawsuit towards the state of Texas, or seen her talking in assist of the reelection of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Chances are you’ll already know that the place she lives has been the scene of horrific therapy of ladies since the U.S. Supreme Courtroom overturned Roe v. Wade

After Texas handed the “Heartbeat Act” in 2021—which banned abortions after six weeks’ gestation (earlier than many ladies even know they’re pregnant)—Dr. Dennard’s sufferers started coming to her with issues. A devoted doctor, Dennard did her greatest to assist them via fears of being pregnant problems and future fertility points. 

Then, in 2022, Dennard turned a affected person who wanted an abortion. 

She and her husband, Linden, additionally an OB-GYN, had been already mother and father to 2 toddlers and needed to develop their household. Dennard had lately suffered a pure miscarriage, so when she turned pregnant once more, the couple was particularly vigilant about her prenatal care. They by no means anticipated that this new being pregnant would lead to Austin fleeing the state to have a heartbreaking however needed abortion. 

Now, Dennard is combating again towards the state that’s turn into a hell on earth for pregnant ladies—and the intense Republicans working to make it a actuality for each state within the nation. Dennard agreed to sit down for an interview with me, sharing her story in her personal phrases.  

Our mid-February dialog began with the fast influence of Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which went into impact on Sept. 1, 2021.


Bonnie Fuller: As an OB-GYN, what had been your ideas when the 2021 abortion ban handed?

Dr. Austin Dennard: I felt so many various feelings. I felt shocked that we had by some means as a society allowed this to occur. It felt just like the rug had simply been pulled out from underneath us.

I’m not notably political. I’m very targeted on caring for my sufferers and staying updated with the newest suggestions for drugs and caring for sufferers. I wasn’t truthfully actually listening to what was taking place within the background, which was this chipping away at our reproductive rights and the concept once I was a medical pupil or in residency that Roe would get overturned. It simply was one thing I by no means may have fathomed would occur.

So it was stunning however startling … scary, all of these emotions of simply, wow, I can’t even consider that we’re within the state of affairs that we’re in now. After which rapidly the subsequent step was, ‘That is disaster-mode reduction. How are we going to follow drugs in a state of affairs like this? What can we do to get collectively to attempt to hold sufferers secure? What’s our hospital going to do to assist assist us?’ It was really like a frenzy once we heard the information.

Fuller: How lengthy was it earlier than you had been confronted with the truth of this taking place to your individual sufferers once they got here in and needed or wanted an abortion?

Dennard: Nearly instantly, we began realizing in actual time what was going to occur, what the repercussions of those extremely restrictive legal guidelines had been going to lead to. And there we had been making an attempt to grapple with these new legal guidelines and the way to proceed to supply glorious and secure take care of our sufferers. 

Editor’s be aware: Texas’ six-week abortion ban not solely makes it unlawful to do abortion procedures in Texas except a pregnant lady is experiencing a “life-threatening medical emergency” or “is at severe danger of considerable impairment of a serious bodily perform,” but in addition prohibits medical doctors and anybody else from “aiding” or “abetting” an abortion—even giving personal residents the proper to file a civil declare towards anybody they believe of doing so. 

Meaning medical doctors are extraordinarily restricted in any recommendation they can provide to pregnant ladies who may have to finish their pregnancies. Plus, the obscure language of the regulation makes it arduous for medical doctors in Texas to know with certainty what constitutes a medical emergency. The regulation permits medical doctors to be fined $100,000 or extra for performing or aiding an abortion. They’ll additionally lose their medical license and be criminally charged with a first-degree felony, punishable by 5 to 99 years in jail.

Frankly, I used to be terrified. I do know a variety of my colleagues had been terrified.

Dr. Austin Dennard

Dr. Austin Dennard (L), along with her affected person and fellow plaintiff Lauren Miller, outdoors the Texas Supreme Courtroom in Austin on Nov. 28, 2023. (Suzanne Cordeiro / AFP through Getty Pictures)

Fuller: With the ban in place, how have you ever suggested sufferers who may have an abortion—particularly if their well being is doubtlessly in danger? 

Dennard: It was as much as my very own particular person risk-benefit evaluation in my mind of what I assumed I used to be secure to inform somebody. It was as much as the person and, frankly, I used to be terrified. I do know a variety of my colleagues had been terrified, and that’s simply in our particular specialty. Physicians—colleagues in all totally different specialties—instantly turned terrified. 

The best way I attempt to describe it’s: Think about you or somebody that you simply love is recognized with a benign mind tumor and the physician says to you, ‘You’ve a mind tumor that’s benign, however it’s slowly going to develop and the longer that it grows, the upper danger to your well being. Now, I can’t carry out a process to take away that tumor, I don’t know the way to try this, however now the state that we reside in is stopping me from having the ability to let you know the place to exit of state to obtain this life-saving care.’

And once I describe it that approach, I believe folks actually perceive how intrusive it feels as a affected person and because the doctor to be put on this state of affairs the place customary medical follow has now been eliminated as an possibility for physicians to follow and for sufferers to obtain in our state. That call was made by politicians and is by no means is supported by any medical society.

Fuller: After Roe v. Wade was overturned, did you are worried that you could possibly personally be affected if you happen to had been to get pregnant once more?

Dennard: When Roe fell, my husband and I knew we needed to develop our household, and we sat down collectively one evening after our toddlers had been in mattress and had the dialogue of what’s going to we do in a state of affairs the place we’d like care if we’re going to develop our household. And we got here up with a plan of what we thought was type of a security measure for my well being resulting from these legal guidelines.

You make plans like that pondering you’re by no means going to want to comply with via with that plan, however as a result of my husband and I are each OB-GYNs and we did perceive what was occurring and we had been seeing sufferers in actual time needing care, it was on the forefront of our minds. 

“So we got here up with a plan and I by no means actually thought that I used to be going to want to comply with via with it. … It really was one of many hardest issues we’ve ever needed to do as a household.

Customary medical follow has now been eliminated as an possibility for physicians to follow and for sufferers to obtain in our state.

Dr. Dennard

Fuller: How did you discover out that the fetus you had been carrying had a deadly fetal anomaly and wouldn’t be capable to survive underneath any circumstances?

Dennard: Properly, I’m in a really privileged state of affairs the place I personally am a doctor with a really shut relationship with my physician. I’ve insurance coverage, I’ve entry to care, I’ve an understanding of drugs. My story, I all the time remind folks, is a narrative of true privilege and it’s my privilege that helped me obtain the abortion care that I wanted. 

In a nutshell, I discovered I used to be pregnant. We had been completely delighted. We had been so excited. I’d lately gone via a pure miscarriage just a few months prior, so we had been delighted to have the possibility to develop our household, which is what we actually, actually, really needed.

I noticed my physician, I obtained my routine blood work early in my being pregnant, and once I got here again for my second go to to endure one other ultrasound and routine genetic screening for my being pregnant, it was found that there was no skull on our child, which is a prognosis known as anencephaly—or AIA is one other time period for it—and it’s a deadly prognosis.

In different phrases, this was by no means going to be just a little brother or just a little sister for my youngsters. And sitting there within the ultrasound suite wanting up on the display, realizing as a doctor what was occurring, but in addition as a mom coming to that conclusion, was a second I’ll always remember. And it nonetheless brings tears to my eyes anytime I give it some thought.

Fuller: How did it additional complicate issues, to know that you simply probably couldn’t terminate your being pregnant in your house state of Texas?

Dennard: I used to be solely 11 weeks [into my pregnancy]. I say ‘solely’ as a result of so many instances this prognosis will not be made till the anatomy ultrasound, which most ladies obtain midway via their being pregnant, nearer to 18 to twenty weeks. I simply so occurred to be fortunate sufficient to be receiving an earlier ultrasound [so] that it was caught earlier. 

It doesn’t make it any simpler. It didn’t matter in my state that we discovered this prognosis early. It didn’t matter that this child was by no means going to outlive outdoors my womb. It didn’t matter that I used to be a physician. It didn’t matter that I used to be a sixth-generation Texan. In that second, I spotted that I had no management over my physique, over my child—all that management and all these selections had been being made by the state, and that’s a sense of full hopelessness.”

Fuller: How had been you in a position to ultimately get the abortion that you simply wanted? 

Dr Dennard: By way of my privilege, I used to be in a position to join with suppliers that reside in states the place the usual medical follow there’s entry to care. And I had a really secure process executed by a fellowship-trained family-planning doctor within the workplace on the East Coast and was in a position to stroll out of the workplace having obtained this care and journey again to Dallas. 

However I need to emphasize that even in that excellent state of affairs, the proper state of affairs of gaining access to care, early prognosis, understanding my prognosis, understanding actually the implications of continuous the being pregnant versus having an abortion, the ache and struggling persists whatever the privilege. I used to be having to pack my luggage and marvel, ‘What do I pack for an out-of-state abortion? Do I pack a darkish gown? Do I put on pants? Do I have to convey pads or grownup diapers whereas I’m on the airplane? Will I begin bleeding closely?’ 

I perceive what the process is. I perceive that it’s very low-risk to have the process executed, however having a process executed by an entire stranger in a state that I’ve by no means been in earlier than or traveled to remains to be actually, actually scary and traumatic. It’s one thing that nobody ought to ever need to undergo, no matter their privilege.”

It didn’t matter in my state that we discovered this prognosis early. It didn’t matter that this child was by no means going to outlive outdoors my womb. It didn’t matter that I used to be a physician. It didn’t matter that I used to be a sixth-generation Texan.

Dr. Dennard

Fuller: How did present process an abortion protect your well being and fertility for future pregnancies?

Dennard: There are all the time dangers in being pregnant, however in my particular prognosis, there have been elevated dangers and my being pregnant would have continued to be thought-about a excessive danger to my well being, however I didn’t have the selection of whether or not or to not proceed, versus discontinue, the being pregnant. There are sufferers who will select to proceed a being pregnant with anencephaly, and that’s okay. That’s their alternative. The lady ought to be capable to select that. However within the state of Texas, there isn’t a alternative however to proceed. 

Particularly for anencephaly, there’s [risk of] extreme preeclampsia, there’s [risk of] hemorrhage, there’s danger of surgical elimination of the fetus … elevated danger of polyhydramnios, which is when there’s approach an excessive amount of fluid within the bag of water that may trigger a variety of discomfort, ache … elevated danger of hysterectomy. My future fertility was at stake as effectively.

Fuller: You joined a lawsuit with 21 different ladies to attempt to drive the state of Texas to make clear and doubtlessly add medical exceptions to the abortion ban. How did you resolve to talk out and take authorized motion after your abortion?  

Dennard: It was a course of for me as a result of, instantly after my abortion, I used to be in a darkish state of grief. I used to be scared. I used to be extraordinarily unhappy. And the best way these legal guidelines have been created, there’s such an emphasis on staying silent that you simply really feel that oppression instantly getting back from your process. When you speak about it, you may get in hassle. I may get my [medical] license revoked, my husband doubtlessly may get his license revoked. 

What if somebody hears about our story and accuses my husband for aiding and abetting my abortion? We had been simply very terrified to speak. And as time went on and I began therapeutic emotionally and bodily from my process, I assumed to myself, ‘One thing good has to return of this horrible loss and trauma that we now have skilled as a household and that I’m seeing with my sufferers.’ I didn’t fairly know what that may imply. I didn’t know the way that was going to manifest. However behind my thoughts, I knew there was one thing I needed to have the ability to do.

Plaintiffs Damla Karsan, Austin Dennard, Samantha Casiano, Taylor Edwards, Elizabeth Weller and Amanda Zurawski attend a press convention outdoors the Travis County Courthouse in Austin on July 20, 2023. All are plaintiffs in Zurawski v. State of Texas, a lawsuit filed by the Heart for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Texas ladies denied abortions regardless of severe being pregnant problems. (Suzanne Cordeiro / AFP through Getty Pictures)

Editor’s Word: Dr. Dennard turned a plaintiff in Zurawski v. State of Texas, which goals to drive the Texas courts to make clear the abortion regulation by particularly naming which medical exceptions may qualify a lady for a authorized abortion within the state, together with ladies carrying a fetus with a deadly prognosis. The case is now earlier than the Texas Supreme Courtroom awaiting a choice

It’s very low-risk to have the process executed, however having a process executed by an entire stranger in a state that I’ve by no means been in earlier than or traveled to remains to be actually, actually scary and traumatic.

Dr. Dennard

Fuller: What’s your message to ladies each inside and out of doors of Texas, that you simply’d prefer to share as an OB-GYN and affected person?

Dennard: This can be a public well being disaster, and we should be saying the phrase ‘abortion’ extra. We should be speaking about abortion once we are sitting on the soccer recreation, within the carpool line, on the eating room desk, ingesting espresso with our sisters and our mates and our husbands and our brothers. 

We should be speaking about this out loud as a result of it’s a public well being disaster and this isn’t a drill. That is really taking place in Texas day-after-day. And I do know it’s arduous to consider if you happen to’re sitting in New York Metropolis or if you happen to’re sitting in California to even fathom that these tales are taking place, however they’re taking place and so they’re a part of my every day life.

Fuller: Donald Trump reportedly favors a 16-week abortion ban for states that don’t have any abortion ban in place. What do you see taking place if he’s elected?  

Dr. Dennard: If Donald Trump is elected and enacts a nationwide abortion ban, you would need to depart the nation if you happen to wanted an abortion. You would need to purchase a aircraft ticket to go throughout the border to obtain customary medical care. And that’s just for probably the most privileged folks.

Pregnant ladies will die, youngsters might be with out their moms, companions might be with out their wives, households might be damaged.

Editor’s be aware: Dennard filmed a brief marketing campaign advert for Joe Biden’s marketing campaign during which she shares her personal harrowing story as described above. See it right here

Up subsequent:

U.S. democracy is at a harmful inflection level—from the demise of abortion rights, to a scarcity of pay fairness and parental depart, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and assaults on trans well being. Left unchecked, these crises will result in wider gaps in political participation and illustration. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Modification, and centering the tales of these most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we’re redoubling our dedication for the subsequent 50 years. In flip, we’d like your assist, Assist Ms. immediately with a donation—any quantity that’s significant to you. For as little as $5 every month, you’ll obtain the print journal together with our e-newsletters, motion alerts, and invites to Ms. Studios occasions and podcasts. We’re grateful to your loyalty and ferocity.



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