Olympic gold medalist breaks silence on widespread abortions in sport

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
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Decorated athlete Sanya Richards-Ross has caused shockwaves in the world of sport with her claim that every female track-and-field athlete she has ever met has had “at least” one abortion.

Lifting the lid on “sport’s last taboo”, the 32-year-old also revealed in her new book that she had an abortion herself the day before leaving to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she went on to scoop an individual bronze medal as well as gold in the relay race.

The retired athlete, who triumphantly won the 400 metres and 4x400m titles at London in 2012, as well as another gold medal in the 2004 games, is now keen to share what life is really like as a sportswoman – and open up vital conversations that could lead to change.

“I literally don't know another female track-and-field athlete who hasn't had an abortion and that's sad,” she told Sports Illustrated Now.

“So, for me, I'm hoping that this will open up some discussions - to helping especially a lot of young women who were in my situation not experience what I did.”

The Jamaican-American athlete went on to say that one of the biggest problems for women was a lack of reliable information about both their bodies and birth control, especially for younger women.

“At that time in your life when you're in college, you don't feel comfortable talking to your mom. So, a lot of information you get is from your peers,” she said.

“It's going to sound silly to some people but, in our community, people don't want to take the pill because you put water weight on. And then people tell you when you're extremely fit you can't get pregnant because our cycles are shorter.

“So, there's a lot of miseducation that happens to young women in college, because we're educating ourselves.”

It’s true that abortion is a topic that is often kept under wraps or considered taboo. Recent research from New York University showed that a third of women who have had an abortion kept it a secret even those who they usually confided in, and current TV phenomenon The Handmaid’s Tale is the first show to properly address the practise, repeatedly, on the small screen.

To help open up the conversation even further, Richards-Ross, who is expecting her first child this year, also discussed her own abortion in her new book, titled Chasing Grace: What the Quarter Mile Has Taught Me about God and Life.

“I made a decision that broke me, one from which I would not immediately heal,” she wrote. “Abortion would now forever be a part of my life, a scarlet letter I never thought  I’d wear.”

The athlete, who was 23 years old at the time, even shared that she had ignored her doctor’s advice to rest following the procedure, instead jumping on a plane to Beijing the next day.

“I wasn't even supposed to run,” she admitted to Sports Illustrated Now. “The doctors told me ‘take 14 days off’ – I didn't have 14 days.”

With Richards-Ross adding that, “most of the women I knew in my sport have had at least one abortion”, here’s hoping that her honesty will cause a catalyst for change.

Images: Rex Features / Hulu