October 17, 2021

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More than 500 female athletes calling on Supreme Court to rebuff Mississippi abortion law – USA TODAY

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More than 500 current and former female athletes urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to reject a Mississippi law that would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In an amicus brief filed Monday, the athletes cite the importance of “bodily integrity and decisional autonomy” to their individual careers and women’s sports as a whole. The list of signatories includes 26 Olympians, 73 professional athletes, 276 college athletes and some of the biggest names in women’s sports – from U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe to WNBA veterans Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi.

Players’ unions for the WNBA and NWSL also signed the brief.

“I am honored to stand with the hundreds of athletes who have signed onto this Supreme Court brief to help champion not only our constitutional rights, but also those of future generations of athletes,” Rapinoe said in a statement. 

“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.”

The athletes filed their amicus brief in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the Supreme Court is set to consider the constitutionality of a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Oral arguments have been scheduled for Dec. 1.

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The case will serve as the first direct test of Roe v. Wade under the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority. The landmark 1973 case legalized abortion across the country, while a separate decision in 1992 (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) guaranteed women’s right to an abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is often set at around 24 weeks.

Female athletes filed an amicus brief in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, in which the Supreme Court is set to consider the constitutionality of a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Oral arguments have been scheduled for Dec. 1.

In their amicus brief, the athletes argue that additional abortion restrictions – like those outlined in the Mississippi law – would have wide-ranging consequences on women’s sports and “undermine athletes’ fundamental rights.”

In one of several first-person statements in the brief, former Team USA swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Crissy Perham reveals that she had an abortion after accidentally becoming pregnant in college, despite being on birth control. She went on to win a national title that summer, qualify for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona and win three Olympic medals, including two golds.

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“My life would be drastically different if I had been pregnant and forced to sit that (national championship) race out, because that race changed the course of my life,” Perham wrote.

“I made the choice that was right for me and my future, and I stand by my decision. That choice ultimately led me to being an Olympian, a college graduate, and a proud mother today.”

The athletes also argue that infringements on abortion care have broader Title IX implications, citing a direct connection between reproductive rights and gender equality.

“If the State compelled women athletes to carry pregnancies to term and give birth, it could derail women’s athletic careers, academic futures, and economic livelihoods at a large scale,” they write in the brief. 

“Such a fundamental restriction on bodily integrity and human autonomy would never be imposed on a male athlete, though he would be equally responsible for a pregnancy.”

Joanna Wright, the lead attorney for the women, told USA TODAY Sports that the stakes in the Mississippi case “could not be higher.”

If the Supreme Court’s ruling weakens or overturns the Roe v. Wade decision, she said, it could enable more than a dozen other states to pursue similar restrictions. She described that possibility as “a dire situation for all women,” athletes among them.

“For many women, sports and their athletic prowess is the ticket to a college education – and, for the elite athletes, access to building livelihood, whether that is through athletic sponsorships or advertising opportunities,” Wright said. 

“I think athletes in particular, and the 500 plus amici who have signed on, understand the huge importance of having decisional autonomy over their own body. They use it as a tool of their own craft.”

Contributing: Nancy Armour

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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