Why Scores of Female Athletes Are Speaking Out on Abortion Rights

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With the Supreme Court ruling in the balance, an Olympic medalist joins a group of more than 500 athletes supporting reproductive rights.

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Chrissy Parham had never spoken publicly about her choices.


In 31 years, Peram, a three-time Olympic medalist, has only told a handful of people what it’s like to be pregnant and decide to have an abortion as a struggling college sophomore. She kept silent about the freedom and gave her a second chance to terminate the pregnancy. She remained silent about how it helped pave the way for her swimming career and the success she had once she finished.

But now, she said, speaking out is essential.

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“I’m 51, at a time where I shouldn’t be embarrassed about a decision I made for my reproductive health,” Peram told me in an interview last week. She further added, one should not feel ashamed and embarrassed in telling their stories, as is often the case. “Especially with a lot on the line.”

I sought out Perm because she was one of more than 500 female athletes who filed a shocking brief in the Supreme Court last week, a bold display of support for reproductive rights in a pending case that seeks to end Roe v. Wade. can cause. A 48-year-old High Court ruling legalized abortion in every state.

An abridged version of Parham’s story, straightforward in its honesty, told succinctly—backed by an elaborate cast that included lesser-known collegiate athletes, past and present Olympians, famous stars such as Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird Were. and the WNBA Players Union.

The primary claim of the brief? If women don’t have the option of abortion, their lives could be disrupted and they won’t be able to progress in sports at the levels we’ve become accustomed to – levels that most recently played at the Tokyo Olympics, the WNBA playoffs and the US Open tennis tournaments have been seen. New York. Having the ability to say when or whether to become a mother is directly linked to a key component that has fueled women’s widespread success in high-level sports: without a break for months, the body can control, nurture, and limit its limits. pushing ability. Years, and sometimes without permanent physical changes that can lead to pregnancy.

In several discussions with me, Parham expanded on her story, first telling a reporter about her difficult decision when she was a 19-year-old swimmer at the University of Arizona.

She talked about the waves of raw fear she felt that the birth control pill she was taking had failed. She remembered that she had neither the maturity nor the means to have a child. Deep in her bones, she knew that having a child would derail the athletic dreams that had defined her for years.

Few female athletes manage to have children and stay in the upper reaches of their sport. It’s splendid. Consider another aspect: the way that abstaining from motherhood, through the occasional miscarriage, keeps female athletes balanced in sport and in life.

For all kinds of reasons, perhaps the biggest is the social shame, it’s rare to hear from female athletes who have ended their pregnancies.

But Perham told me about driving alone to Planned Parenthood on a low-inclined Planned Parenthood through Tucson on a January 1990 morning and was greeted by steady, nonjudgmental medical staff members who carefully aborted.

“While ending my pregnancy, I decided which direction I needed to take my life,” she said. “Someone else can decide to go the other direction, and that’s fine. But it was the best decision for me.”

Getting through that crisis, she said, helped her stay focused like never before in class and in the pool. Seven months later she won the national swimming title in the 100m butterfly. She went on to capture back-to-back NCAA titles in that event.

A year later, she repeated as champion. She had gone from being an athlete who, in her words, was “not on anyone’s radar for the national team” to one of the best in the world.

At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, ​​Spain – newly married to her first husband and known at the time as Chrissy Ahman-Leighton – she was co-captain of the US women’s swimming team, winning two gold medals in the relay race and one in the 100. Won silver medal. -meter butterfly.

Now looking back, with the cushion of time, Paraham cannot imagine the good parts of her life as if she would have had a 19-year-old. Not only her career in pool, but her successful second marriage, her job coaching high school swimmers and being the mother of two sons who are now in their 20s.

Life as she knows it, the life she loves is a product of that decision, she told me. “It’s not unusual,” she said, adding that many athletes have similar stories.

In May, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal from a Mississippi lower court ruling that blocked a state law banning abortion after 15 weeks. In Roe’s decision, the Supreme Court legalized abortion until the embryo’s viability, approximately 25 weeks. Roe recognized that making the decision to continue a pregnancy, which affects a woman’s well-being and future, is a matter of personal choice.

Abortion rights activists believe that if Justices decide in favor of the Mississippi ban, Roe’s decision will be severely impacted. It’s not clear how many women in sports oppose abortion rights, but what is certain: The threat to Roe has provoked and mobilized female athletes who want to keep it safe. The 73-page brief, one of dozens of courtroom friends filed in the case, is meant as a show of support for the right to choose. Introduced last week by high-powered law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, the brief is another indication of the rapid growth of athlete empowerment. Excited to speak on issues beyond their game, they are networking like never before.

For example, Perham only learned about the brief two weeks ago from Casey Legler, an outspoken former Olympic swimmer who is now a writer and restaurateur in New York.

“It was like this wild root system that we didn’t even know existed,” Legler said. “It was the swimmers who got the soccer players calling their agent who called the basketball player whose girlfriend is on the diving team who remembers the kid playing hockey.”

“We all know what’s at stake,” she said.

On December 1, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the Mississippi case, with a decision likely in the summer.

No matter what happens—and with a conservative majority on the court, but with some swing justice, concerns on both sides about how it might rule—more than 500 female athletes have made themselves clear.

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