Playing in state with abortion ban ‘out of the question’

Pro athletes speak out about abortion bans in the United States and glimpse a future where an athlete’s venue could be determined by where states stand on reproductive rights.

USA Today Sports surveyed 30 current and former professional women’s sports athletes to assess how changes in reproductive rights have impacted their career choices.

It’s easy for USWNT and Portland Thorns star Crystal Dunn.

“Playing in a red state right now I would say is out of the question,” she told USA Today. “It’s up to all players in the league to protect each other.”

Dunn, who recently gave birth to a son, noted the physical and emotional consequences of pregnancy. Returning to football also took its toll, she said. And while she’s made the decision to have a child, she doesn’t want anyone else to be forced into it.

“If I didn’t want to continue the pregnancy because my career might be interrupted, that should be my choice,” Dunn said. “I just don’t think anyone should be able to force you to keep the baby if you feel pregnant — especially a man.”

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There is also the question of whether the bans will affect agency in the women’s leagues.

“I was asked by (someone), ‘Will this affect free choice making? Won’t players want to go to the Dallas’ and Atlanta’s of the world?’” said recently retired WNBA legend Sue Bird. “It’s a real thing for every woman to think about where you’re going to live based on your rights.”

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman declined to say whether the league would block trades based on a player’s reproductive rights wishes, but said she was open to a conversation.

“Certainly in a situation like this we would want to have a conversation about how we can ensure that (everyone) feels safe and supported to get the medical attention they may need in the place where they live or work target. ‘ said Berman. “The league is there as a safety net to ensure their medical needs are properly attended to.”

With leagues like the WNBA and NWSL also looking to expand, league leaders are considering abortion restrictions when it comes to selecting homes for new franchises.

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“At the end of the day, it’s a business decision and they’re going to do what makes the most money,” said Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson. “They need to understand what women in the WNBA stand for, so they need to address that.”

There’s also the question of collegiate athletes. A large number of elite women’s programs are located in states with bans on abortion. There are concerns as to whether this will affect recruitment and also the college team’s ability to fill in their staffs.

Some schools have failed to address the issue, and outdated school policies regarding pregnancy — including the NCAAs, which have not been updated since 2008 — have caused “major panic,” a Power Five coach told USA Today.

While Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP and former South Carolina standout, said she “probably” would still have attended the school given the situation had she not allowed her daughter to attend.

“No, I wouldn’t let my kid go there,” Wilson told USA Today without hesitation.

Chicago Sky All-Star Candace Parker was reluctant to allow her daughter to go to Tennessee, where she won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2007 and 2008.

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“I want to be able to say that my daughter has the same rights over her body that my son has,” Parker said. “I don’t know today if I can say that.”

Leagues and sports organizations are providing support as abortion access is restricted.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league will “absolutely” reimburse travel expenses for all league employees and that player abortions are covered by their insurance. The US Olympic & Paralympic Committee has also promised access to “family planning services” in every state through insurance and will cover “reasonable travel expenses” if such services are not available.

But athletes recognize their privilege and the fact that such promises are not made to most American women.

“I don’t feel safe being from California or living in Connecticut,” said Connecticut Sun player DiJonai Carrington. “The concern remains the same — if we’re not all safe, then none of us are safe.”

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