Durbin Questions Witnesses During a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Continued Assault on Reproductive Freedoms in Post-Dobbs America

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “The Continued Assault on Reproductive Freedoms in a Post-Dobbs America.”  The hearing examined the continued and devastating fallout since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in June 2022 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  Durbin first questioned Lourdes Rivera, the President of Pregnancy Justice, about “fetal personhood” laws and the seemingly contradictory views of lawmakers who claim to both oppose abortion from the moment of conception and support IVF.

“Professor [O. Carter] Snead [the Director of the de Nicola Center forEthics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame] said we are going through a work in progress since Dobbs.  It sure is a work in progress—[you recognize that] when you hear Dr. [Austin] Dennard [an OB-GYN in Texas who fled her home state when she needed an abortion in the summer of 2022] and others as they describe what they have been through.  But it’s a work in progress that I think is fundamentally ignoring the obvious.  Ms. Rivera, this notion of ‘[fetal or embryonic] personhood’, how would you describe it?” Durbin asked.

Ms. Rivera responded that Durbin’s comments are correct.  She expanded to say these reproductive issues don’t “exist in silos.”  She continued to say, “the problem is—if you define fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as legal persons with independent rights, it’s going to affect everyone.  It will affect abortion, it will affect access to IVF, it will affect contraception, and it will affect the quality of health care that pregnant women and pregnant people are entitled to.”

Durbin then questioned Dr. Dennard about Republicans’ extremist views about abortion and IVF, while completely disregarding the impact of these restrictions on a woman and her autonomy.

“They wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade to take away the right of a woman to decide to end her pregnancy.  Now there are some who want to outlaw IVF and deny a woman the right to start a pregnancy.  The common notion here is the woman is just a vessel, not a participant in this decision-making process, even for her own health and the future of her own family.  Dr. Dennard, is that what you discovered?” Durbin asked.

Dr. Dennard responded to Durbin, “when I was pregnant in my state, I felt exactly how you described, I felt like a vessel.  When I looked at the ultrasound screen and saw that I was growing a pregnancy that had no skull or brain but [I] had no way of making any decision on my health, that's exactly how I felt.  That's exactly how my patients feel when they are in similar situations.  We've lost our ability to make any decisions about our bodies, and it is harming women and its harming families.”

Durbin then asked Dr. Dennard about the standard care for patients.  Yesterday, NPR reported on the “dangerously disrupted” standard of pregnancy care in Louisiana in the wake of Louisiana’s abortion ban.  The story discussed a report that found that women in Louisiana have been forced to undergo Cesarean sections when their water breaks early in their pregnancy, before the fetus is viable, instead of receiving an abortion procedure or medication—which is standard medical practice.  The report is “among the most comprehensive research to date showing abortion bans are changing pregnancy care and worsening maternal health.”  One doctor explained that the C-section was done to, “preserve the appearance of not doing an abortion.” And even more galling, the patients aren’t given a choice.

“As I understand, a C-section is a much more serious—and not as safe procedure as [an] abortion.  Equally troubling, the NPR story reports that OB-GYNs in Louisiana are now delaying routine prenatal care until patients reach 12 weeks of care, a serious deviation from standard medical practice.  Can you speak to how restrictive abortion bans affect the ability of OB-GYNs to practice the standard of care that you learned in medical school?” Durbin asked.

Dr. Dennard responded that due to the extremist bans and restrictions on reproductive rights, OB-GYNs are completely changing the way they practice medicine. She stated, “there [has] been [a] migration of physicians to different states, patients have been abandoned in certain states because of this, and we are losing physicians that have the ability to do procedures, including abortion care, because of these restrictions.” 

This hearing follows two previous hearings the Committee has held on reproductive freedoms since Roe was overruled—one in July 2022 and one in April 2023.

Since Dobbs, the reproductive health care landscape in America has become more unsettled, resulting in women across the country—whether or not they live in states where abortion is restricted or banned—facing negative and sometimes life-threatening outcomes.  Furthermore, the Alabama Supreme Court’s recent decision ruling that frozen embryos are children now threatens access to assisted reproductive technology (ART)—including in vitro fertilization (IVF)—in that state.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.