When Dr. Austin Dennard, an OB-GYN in Dallas, learned that her 11-week-old fetus had a fatal medical condition in July 2022, she immediately understood the medical implications.
Dennard is starring in a new political ad for President Biden’s re-election campaign, in which she describes her diagnosis and having to leave Texas and its restrictive abortion law to get an abortion.
Democrats like Biden are increasingly having women describe, in stark, emotional detail, the personal impact of the abortion bans championed by their Republican opponents. In 2023, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat seeking re-election in Kentucky, ran an ad featuring a woman who said she was raped as child by her stepfather, criticizing a state abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Abortion rights have emerged as one of the Democrats’ strongest arguments with voters. Campaign aides in Kentucky said the Beshear ad helped sway some independent and conservative voters. The issue led to victories in the 2022 midterms and in other races in 2023. Now, the issue is a centerpiece of Biden’s re-election bid, part of an argument that abortion rights are one of many personal freedoms that will be taken away if Donald Trump is once again elected president.
Dennard supported Biden and generally votes for Democratic candidates, she said, but never considered herself particularly political.
“Other than being an active voter, I don’t follow politics closely,” she said. “I am a mom in Texas, driving my S.U.V. to Costco, picking up food and trying to get everyone’s shoes on in time for church on Sunday. There’s nothing special about me.”
That started to change on June 24, 2022, when the Supreme Court voted to overrule Roe v. Wade. That night, Ms. Dennard sat on her sofa with her husband, also an OB-GYN, and made a plan. If she had a problem with her pregnancy, they would head to the East Coast to find care. And they would try to facilitate the same help for patients who wanted to terminate their pregnancies.
Two weeks later, she was diagnosed with an anencephalic pregnancy, a fatal defect where a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. For the mother, it can lead to bleeding, preterm labor and other complications that could threaten future fertility — plus the emotional trauma of carrying a child almost certain to die within hours of birth.
Texas’s abortion ban had an exception for life-threatening medical emergencies. But Dennard said she didn’t bother trying to ask for one. The risks to her life weren’t acute. “I knew I wasn’t going to get one. I wasn’t sick enough,” she said.
She was fortunate to be able to get an abortion at all, she said, a reflection of her connections as a doctor and ability to spend thousands of dollars on travel for the procedure.
“That privilege is what was enabled me to be able to get the access to care that I needed,” she said. “But it doesn’t shield you. The cruelty and the terror and the gaslighting — that penetrates every level of privilege. That’s the great equalizer.”
When Dennard returned home, she was in “a very dark place,” mourning her personal loss and struggling to provide care for her patients, some of whom faced their own difficult choices.
“It’s excruciating to have these conversations. I have more courage now talking about options for care and travel,” she said. “But it’s still hard to talk about because you never know if someone is going to turn you in for helping an individual get care.”
Dennard and her husband have discussed whether they should leave the state to practice medicine somewhere that abortion remains legal. For now, they’re staying put. But she worries about the prospect of a national abortion ban or restrictions on contraception.
“I’m a sixth-generation Texan. My entire family is in Texas. My husband’s from Kansas. Neither of us trained in states where we were able to give people abortions. But if contraception is taken away, we’ll have to move,” she said.
She became involved with the lawsuit after a patient became a plaintiff. As she talked about her patient’s case to the lawyers at the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights legal group, she mentioned her own abortion. In July, then 34 weeks pregnant with her third child, she offered emotional testimony in court about her 2022 diagnosis and choice to travel out of state.
“The fact of the matter is that everyone clearly needs a choice and some patients will choose to continue their pregnancies and that’s OK. I’m here to guide them through that, if that’s what they want to choose,” she said. “But the problem is the choice has been taken away. Completely taken away.”
The case — and the ad — have transformed her loss and grief into action.
“It’s helped me become a better doctor and hopefully a better mother. I had such an outpouring of love and support,” she said. “I don’t feel so alone anymore.”
Joe Biden’s plan for Taylor Swift
There’s a blank space on President Biden’s list of 2024 endorsements.
Biden is trying to pump energy into his re-election bid, kicking off what is likely to be a historically long slog to November between two unpopular nominees. Aides are drafting wish lists of potential surrogates, including elected officials and social media influencers — and the endorsement of their wildest dreams.
Taylor Swift, the pop sensation and N.F.L. enthusiast, can spur millions of supporters with an Instagram post or a mid-concert aside. She endorsed Biden in 2020 and, last year, a single Instagram post of hers led to 35,000 new voter registrations.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a top Biden surrogate, all but begged Swift to become more involved in Biden’s campaign when he spoke to reporters after a Republican primary debate in September.
“Taylor Swift stands tall and unique,” he said. “What she was able to accomplish just in getting young people activated to consider that they have a voice and that they should have a choice in the next election, I think, is profoundly powerful.”
The chatter around Swift reached such intensity that the Biden team recently urged applicants in a job posting for a social media position not to describe their Taylor Swift strategy — the campaign had enough suggestions already. One idea that has been tossed around, a bit in jest: sending the president to a stop on Swift’s Eras Tour.
Some of Biden’s Republican foils are also obsessed with a possible Swift endorsement. They know all too well her ability to mobilize young voters, but to them, she’s an antihero.
“I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month,” the former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy wrote on X this morning, referring to Swift and her boyfriend, the Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce. “And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall.”