Female Athletes to SCOTUS: Protection of Abortion Rights are the Protection of Our Rights

BY: EMILY COSTANZO


Image via SCOTUSblog


On Wednesday, December 1, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments for the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case, one that will ring a bell in the minds of anyone who follows any type of news outlet, will consider the constitutionality of a Mississippi law which bans abortions after 15 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy.


What does this case—one finding its roots all the way back in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision—have to do with sports? According to the over 500 female athletes who signed an amicus brief in opposition to the law on Monday, a lot.


This group of athletes—one comprised of 26 Olympians, 73 professional athletes, 276 collegiate student-athletes, the players’ unions of both the WNBA and NWSL, the Athlete Ally organization, and more—argue that these infringements upon their right to legally receive an abortion have “broader Title IX implications” and cite a “direct connection between reproductive rights and gender equality.”[1] Some notable signees include, but are not limited to, Diana Taurasi, Megan Rapinoe, Brittney Griner, Sue Bird, and Breanna Stewart.[2] Though each of these women made the brave and empowering decision to sign, one signee chose not only to attach her name to the filing, but also her personal story.


Crissy Perham, an Olympic swimmer who earned two gold medals for the United States, discussed her decision to receive an abortion during her time in college.[3] She stated, “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.”[4]


To be sure, no woman—athlete or otherwise—makes the decision to receive an abortion lightly. However, as the language of the brief states, the opposition to this Mississippi law and those like it rests in the importance of “bodily integrity and decisional autonomy” for women’s bodies, careers, and lives at large.[5]


When further examining the relevance of this decision to the world of female athletics, these signees highlight the correlation between women embracing the rights constitutionally afforded to them and the forward progression of the women’s game in all arenas. The brief states:


“Women’s increased participation and success in sports has been propelled to remarkable heights by women’s exercise of, and reliance on, constitutional guarantees of liberty and gender equality, including the right to reproductive autonomy…Continued access to, and reliance on, those rights will empower the next generation of girls and women to continue to excel in athletics and beyond, strengthening their communities and this nation.”[6]


In an era that is finally emphasizing the importance of women’s sports—be that emphasis through increases in televised competitions, improvements in labor contracts, greater opportunities to purchase gear or tickets, or equality in wages—we must not forget that these women will one day step off the pitch, or out of the pool, or away from the arena, and when that day comes, they, like every other woman that stands alongside them, deserve the right to make their own decisions about their bodies. As Megan Rapinoe so aptly states, “Physically, we push ourselves to the absolute limit, so to have forces within this country trying to deny us control over our own bodies is infuriating and un-American and will be met with fierce resistance.”[7]


[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2021/09/20/supreme-court-mississippi-abortion-law-women-athletes-warning/8418765002/ [2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/09/21/female-athletes-supreme-court-abortion-rights/ [3] https://www.si.com/wnba/2021/09/21/female-athletes-ask-supreme-court-to-protect-abortion-rights [4] Id. [5] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2021/09/20/supreme-court-mississippi-abortion-law-women-athletes-warning/8418765002/ [6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/09/21/female-athletes-supreme-court-abortion-rights/ [7] https://www.si.com/wnba/2021/09/21/female-athletes-ask-supreme-court-to-protect-abortion-rights