Student Athletes Face Tremendous Pressure to Have Abortions to Stay on Their Teams

Opinion   |   Kristan Hawkins   |   Apr 17, 2018   |   1:02PM   |   Washington, DC

In a strange twist of fate, leading athletics programs seem to be ignoring federal protections for women that went into effect the year before Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton created almost unlimited abortion access. While the 1972 Title IX was created to protect female athletes from discrimination on the basis of sex, many athletes report that rather than their pregnancies being welcomed or accommodated, they are facing incredible pressure to abort, almost as though Roe’s 1973 abortion ruling trumped their rights.

Last year, Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross told Sports Illustrated, “I literally don’t know another female track and field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion.” Richards-Ross herself openly recounts her own abortion two weeks before the Olympic games in Beijing. She told Sports Illustrated that abortion is pervasive among college athletes because they are often misinformed about their own reproductive capacity and she said that she didn’t know all of her pregnancy options when she underwent her abortion. And Richards-Ross’ story is representative of countless others like her own.

Something is seriously amiss when students don’t know that they have choices other than abortion. At Students for Life, we see egregious failures like this all too often. We encounter students who have never been told that they are protected by law from being kicked off of a sports team or losing a scholarship if they become pregnant. We meet students who have had abortions because they believed it was their only choice.

The question is this: Why are the schools, coaches, staff, and professors in these students’ lives doing almost nothing to ensure that they are apprised of their rights under Title IX? Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities at schools that receive federal taxpayer funding. In other words, it is against the law for a student to lose her scholarship or be kicked off her sports team for being pregnant.

Still, problems persist. Through the Pregnant on Campus Initiative, Students for Life America staff and student leaders have responded to dozens of complaints from pregnant students who were told to drop out of school, were dropped from or failed out of classes, and even lost financial aid. In many cases, SFLA staff has had to explain to the students what the Title IX violation was so that they could then advocate for themselves because Title IX coordinators were not providing them the correct information, or were directly complicit in the action. Title IX questions are among the top concerns that our initiative responds to because most students are uninformed on the topic and are surprised to learn that the actions of administration and staff are illegal (e.g. encouraging them to drop out of class, failing to provide excused absences for childbirth and labor).

The Department of Justice states that Title IX’s objective is “to avoid the use of federal money to support sexual discrimination in educational programs and to provide individual citizens effective protections against those practices.” Yet, every year, female athletes seek abortions because they believe that carrying a child to term and giving birth will end their athletic careers.

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This fact brings to light a second problem: If pregnant students are not being adequately informed by their schools that they’re protected by law under Title IX, shouldn’t this be disclosed in pre-abortion counseling? If a young woman goes to Planned Parenthood and tells the counselor that she is seeking an abortion because she will lose her scholarship if she continues her pregnancy, Planned Parenthood’s counseling and informed consent policies should include a disclosure that she is protected by Title IX and does not have to undergo an abortion to maintain her status or scholarship.

Informing students of their Title IX protections is a large component of Students for Life’s Pregnant on Campus Initiative. We must stop failing the young female students who comprise the biggest target of the abortion industry. We know that when students are not informed of their rights by school officials, we cannot count on the abortion industry to deliver this life-saving information, considering its history of exploitation and abuse.

No woman should be forced to choose between her pre-born child and her athletic and educational future. The law says they don’t have to pit one against the other. It’s time for those in charge of athletic programming to stop forcing a choice for abortion.