Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross has shocked the sports world by claiming that every female track-and-field athlete she knows has had at least one abortion during their careers.
The 32-year-old Jamaican-American sprinter also revealed that she’d had an abortion the day before she left the US to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Ignoring her doctor’s advice, she ran her races and went on to win bronze in the 400m and gold in the 400 X 4 relay.
“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.”
Richards-Ross went on to explain that contraception among her peers in the athletics community wasn’t effectively discussed or managed. Women wouldn’t take the pill for fear of putting “water weight on” and it was generally thought that female sprinters couldn’t get pregnant because their menstrual cycles were shorter due to intense physical activity.
Even outside sporting circles in the US, abortion is often considered a controversial topic – one that is politicised by fundamental Christian Senators and swept under the carpet in most communities.
However, Richards-Ross, who is expecting her first child, seems determined to start a fresh conversation about a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.
Writing in her new book, Chasing Grace: What the Quarter Mile Has Taught Me about God and Life, she writes about her own experience of having an abortion.
“I made a decision that broke me, one from which I would not immediately heal,” she writes. “Abortion would now forever be a part of my life, a scarlet letter I never thought I’d wear.”
“I wasn’t even supposed to run,” she told Sports Illustrated Now. “The doctors told me ‘take 14 days off’ – I didn’t have 14 days.”
Whether it’s enough to encourage other young athletics stars to come forward remains to be seen. But she certainly should have America’s attention.