More than 500 female athletes signed an Amicus brief last week asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against a Mississippi law that bans abortions after about 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Signed by female Olympians, soccer and basketball and swimming stars, the brief failed address the critical questions of the humanity and moral status of children in the womb. Instead, the athletes focused on how abortion restrictions “harm” them.
Their approach is typical of the kind of arguments being made against the Texas law, and abortion restrictions in general. These arguments depend upon a number of faulty assumptions which, like the humanity of babies in the womb, are left unsaid.
First, the brief claims that without abortion, female athletes would be “compelled” by the state to “carry pregnancies to term and to give birth.” Implied here is that abstinence is too preposterous a proposition to even be considered as an option. Even if ideological and moral considerations are left aside, that’s simply illogical. The U.S. government doesn’t force anyone to make children, or to engage in the kinds of sexual activity that leads to pregnancy.
Also, according to the attorney who filed the brief on behalf of the athletes, the right to kill unborn babies is absolutely necessary in order for women to be able to “realize their full athletic potential.” Even if we set aside the degrading tyranny of low expectations assumed in that statement, implied here is that it’s impossible for women who become mothers to also be successful athletes. That’s simply not true.
Allyson Felix is the most decorated American track star in history. In 2018, she was effectively dropped by her sponsor, Nike, after refusing to terminate her pregnancy. She was picked up by another sponsor and, despite a challenging pregnancy, went on to win both gold and bronze medals in Tokyo, while her two-year-old watched from home.
Pregnancy and parenting does, of course, disrupt life in many profound ways. Still, scores of women have been successful as athletes and, for that matter, in business, education, science, finance, politics, and countless other areas, while also being mothers.
Even so, abortion advocates often pit a woman’s body as an obstacle to her success as a woman. This makes it all the more strange that so many of the athletes who signed this brief, claiming to support women’s sports, publicly advocate for allowing men to participate in women’s sports. A few months before signing this brief, U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post in which she opposed restrictions on males competing against females. Unlike abortion restrictions, allowing men in women’s sports is unfair and unsafe for women. In fact, it eliminates any logical ground for gendered sports leagues in the first place.
Perhaps the most problematic part of this brief is its subtext that competing in sports is as important for human flourishing as creating and bearing children. For athletes to assert that they must have the right to kill their unborn children in order to compete is to suggest that competing in a sport is of greater value than the life of another human being. While courageous and talented athletes like Allyson Felix disprove this point practically, Scripture counters it ontologically. Men and women were made to image God and, as the Westminster Catechism puts it, to glorify and enjoy Him forever.
Competing in sports is one way humans can enjoy and glorify God, but that’s only because enjoying and glorifying God is what humans are for. Watching Michael Jordan play basketball in the 90s, Serena Williams serve a tennis ball in the 2000s, or Simone Biles tumble across a balance beam today unfailingly elicits awe and wonder. These various physical talents reflect and portray the deep value that humans have, but they are not the source of that value.
Human value is God-given and therefore intrinsic to who we are. This brief implies that something we do, competing in sports, carries more value than who we are, valuable image bearers of God. If that is true, what of the rest of us with more, shall we say, limited athletic abilities?
Simply put, this Amicus brief gets everything exactly wrong. It’s wrong to suggest that the ability to bear children is somehow a bug, not a feature, of the female body. It’s wrong to suggest that children are a hindrance to athletic success, as if they were a sprained ankle or broken hockey stick. And it’s wrong about who women’s sports are for, what they are for, and what they portray about human value.
When a sports league pressures women to violently inhibit their body’s natural functioning, it ceases to be a women’s league at all. Instead it becomes a pretend-men’s sports league which encourages women to compete as long as they aren’t too much like women. It disregards those women who do compete – and win – while being and becoming mothers. And it belittles the beauty and design of women’s bodies, which are strong enough to do more than one thing, like jump a two-meter high bar or run 400 meters in 53 seconds and also carry, bear, and raise children.