500 Female Athletes Urge Supreme Court To Protect Abortion Rights

More than 500 current and former female athletes filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday warning the justices that dismantling abortion access would have a “devastating” effect on women’s sports. 

The legal filing comes the day the Supreme Court announced that on Dec. 1, it will hear an abortion case out of Mississippi concerning pre-viability bans, effectively allowing a direct challenge to the abortion protections established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. It’s expected that an estimated 24 states will immediately outlaw access to the procedure if the Supreme Court upholds the ban. 

The 514 signatories on Monday’s filing provided a somber look at the ways forced pregnancy could easily end many female athletes’ careers. Women who signed on to the letter include soccer star Megan Rapinoe, water polo star Ashleigh Johnson and Layshia Clarendon, who serves as WNBPA vice president.

Crissy Perham, an Olympic swimmer who took gold competing in the 1992 Barcelona Games, publicly disclosed for the first time that while competing in college, she had an abortion after her birth control failed. The decision allowed her to compete in a race that “changed the course of my life,” she wrote. 

I was on scholarship, I was just starting to succeed in my sport, and I didn’t want to take a year off. I decided to have an abortion. I wasn’t ready to be a mom, and having an abortion felt like I was given a second chance at life. I was able to take control of my future and refocus my priorities. I got better in school, I started training really hard, and that summer, I won my first national championship. My life would be drastically different if I had been pregnant and forced to sit that race out, because that race changed the course of my life. It opened up so many opportunities, and a year later, I made the Olympic team.

The letter includes signatures from 26 Olympians, 73 professional athletes and 276 intercollegiate athletes. Female athletes, the filing emphasizes, won nearly 60% of Team USA’s medals in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

“The demands of athletics and pregnancy are physically and emotionally intense,” the filing states. “If women were to lose the agency to make individual, personal choices as to if, when, and how to balance these competing demands, many will be forced to sacrifice their athletic aspirations and pursuits.”

There are plenty of examples of women whose athletic pursuits suffered when during and after their pregnancies, the filing says, citing the experience of Olympic runner Kara Groucher.

Some women face physical and mental health changes long after giving birth, placing their athletic pursuits in permanent jeopardy. For example, after Kara Groucher, an Olympic and professional runner, gave birth, her doctor “told her she must choose: run 120 miles each week or breastfeed her son. Her body couldn’t do both.” And she “has suffered from chronic hip injuries ever since she raced the Boston Marathon seven months after childbirth.”

Beyond the physical ramifications, pregnancy and childbirth also often take an emotional and financial toll on women, the filing emphasizes. 

The next generation of female athletes “must be guaranteed bodily integrity and decisional autonomy in order to fully and equally participate in sports,” write the women. 

You can read the full filing here. 

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