Athletes and coaches react to the Supreme Court's abortion decision

Anne M. Peterson
Associated Press

U.S. national soccer team star Megan Rapinoe expressed her anger Friday over the Supreme Court's decision to strip the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion, decrying an erosion of rights that women have had for a generation.

United States women's national soccer team member Alex Morgan, left, listens as teammate Megan Rapinoe speak to reporters during a news conference in New York, Friday, May 24, 2019. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan were included on the U.S. national team roster for the upcoming CONCACAF W Championship, which will determine four of the region’s teams in the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

“I think the cruelty is the point because this is not pro life by any means,” said Rapinoe, who was close to tears at times as she expressed her outrage.

The always outspoken Rapinoe was joined by some of the country's leading sports figures in publicly sharing their dismay, anger and concern after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted that the ruling was about “ power and control,” and he retweeted a couple posts about the effect of the decision on Black women.

In a joint statement, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the leagues “believe that women should be able to make their own decisions concerning their health and future, and we believe that freedom should be protected.”

“We will continue to advocate for gender and health equity, including ensuring our employees have access to reproductive health care, regardless of their location,” they said.

Rapinoe is in Colorado as the two-time defending World Cup champions prepare for a game Saturday against Colombia. As a gay woman, she also spoke about fears that the conservative court would come for her rights next.

“We live in country that forever tries to chip away what you have innately, what you have been privileged enough to feel your entire life," she said.

The high court's decision will directly impact women who play for teams in states that could ban abortions outright in the wake of the ruling.

That is the situation in Kentucky, home of Racing Louisville of the National Women's Soccer League, where access to abortion ended abruptly with Friday's ruling.

Kentucky had a trigger law enacted in 2019, that now ends nearly all abortions in that state.

“Kentuckians requiring an abortion will be forced to drive an average of 245 miles for proper health care in the wake of today's Supreme Court decision. This development leaves us especially concerned about marginalized members of our community and future Supreme Court decisions that could impact them,” Racing Louisville said in a statement.

In Florida, a new law goes into effect on July 1 that will ban all abortions after 15 weeks. The NWSL's Orlando Pride put out a joint statement with Orlando City of Major League Soccer.

“Access to safe reproductive health care and having autonomy over one's body are basic, nonnegotiable human rights, and our club deeply objects to today's Supreme Court decision,” it said.

Texas, home to the NWSL's Houston Dash and the WNBA's Dallas Wings, is among 13 states that have trigger laws similar to Kentucky. Two other WNBA teams, the Indiana Fever and the Atlanta Dream, are in states where abortion restrictions are possible.

Just a day before the ruling, Billie Jean King celebrated the anniversary of Title IX and it's impact on women and sports.

"This decision will not end abortion. What it will end is safe and legal access to this vital medical procedure. It is a sad day in the United States,” King said in a statement.

Billy Jean King, tennis icon and gender equality advocate, speaks after helping unveil a portrait of the late Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress and who helped pass the Title IX Amendment to prohibit sex-based discrimination in federal programs, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022.

In her 2021 autobiography “All In,” King said she had an abortion in 1971 in California, where it was legal. Her name also appeared on a petition to legalize abortion in a 1972 edition of Ms. Magazine, joining several prominent women stating they’d had an abortion.

The criticism of the court's decision came cascading down from women coaches, players, teams and unions.

More: For many female athletes in Michigan, Title IX has been their defense to save their sports

Tennis player Coco Gauff found it hard to believe.

“Incredibly disappointed by the decision made today. The sad part is this will not stop abortions from happening … this will only increase illegal and unsafe abortions. Today is a very sad day for our country and I cannot believe once again history is repeating itself,” tweeted the 18-year-old Gauff, runner-up at the French Open earlier this month.

The WNBA players association did not mince words: “This ruling provides a treacherous pathway to abortion bans that reinforce economic, social and political inequalities and could lead to higher rates of maternal mortality while eviscerating rights to reproductive freedom for everyone.”

Michigan's Carol Hutchins, the winningest coach in college softball history, said she was informed of the decision by news alerts on her phone Friday.

“I totally expected it to happen because it’s been talked about and it was clear this was coming,” Hutchins said. “Women’s rights are human rights and in general, human rights in this country are under siege in my opinion. I’m concerned for people’s rights to life, liberty and happiness.”

Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins, the winningest coach in college softball history, said she was informed of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the abortion rights provisions of Roe v. Wade via news alerts on her phone Friday.

But women weren't the only athletes speaking out.

Stefan Frei, goalkeeper for the Seattle Sounders, went to Twitter soon after the decision was handed down.

“Impose a constitutional right to concealed carry of firearms, and following day end the fundamental constitutional protection of reproductive rights!? Our country is actively moving in the wrong direction," Frei said, referencing the Supreme Court's decision striking down New York’s “proper cause” requirement limiting who can carry a gun.