Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird among 500-plus athletes formally urging Supreme Court to protect abortion rights

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Megan Rapinoe attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the
Megan Rapinoe joined more than 500 women athletes in a formal appeal for reproductive rights. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

More than 500 women athletes, coaches and sports associations including soccer star Megan Rapinoe and WNBA All-Star Sue Bird signed a formal appeal on Monday urging the U.S. Supreme Court to protect abortion rights. 

The filing called an amicus brief argues that the right to abortion established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is essential for women athletes to pursue their sports at the same level men are afforded. The group of 514 signatories includes the WNBA's Diana Taurasi, Olympic gold-medal water polo goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, the WNBPA and the NWSLPA, players unions for the WNBA and NWSL.

The group collectively referred to as Athlete Amici include 26 Olympians, 73 professional athletes and 276 college athletes. 

"Amici depend on the right to control their bodies and reproductive lives in order to reach their athletic potential," the brief reads. "Indeed, Amici are united in their belief that the physical tolls of forced pregnancy and childbirth would undermine athletes’ ability to actualize their full human potential."

Brief addresses Mississippi-backed bid to overturn Roe v. Wade

The brief was filed in response to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a bid to end legal abortion in Mississippi after 15 weeks that's backed by the state's Republican-led legislature. It seeks to directly overturn Roe v. Wade and return control of abortion law to individual states.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch argued in court filings that Supreme Court rulings from Roe v. Wade and 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey affirming abortion rights are "egregiously wrong." The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case starting Dec. 1.

Texas ruling raises stakes for pro-choice advocates

The Supreme Court's August decision to remain silent on a controversial Texas law outlawing abortion after detection of a so-called fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks into pregnancy, and enabling private citizens to sue abortion providers and anybody else involved in facilitating an abortion has raised urgency for pro-choice advocates around the Mississippi case. 

It marked the first significant decision concerning reproductive rights since the Supreme Court was overhauled by former President Donald Trump, who nominated Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, establishing the Court's current 6-3 conservative majority. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly vowed to nominate only pro-life justices. 

'Women athletes must have the power to decide'

Monday's filing argues that the Roe and Casey decisions are essential for women athletes to pursue their careers.

"Pregnancy fundamentally transforms a woman’s body, impacting and potentially hindering an athlete’s access to higher education, elite competition, and a professional athletic career," the filing reads. "Women athletes must have the power to decide whether and when to dedicate their bodies to athletics, pregnancy, or both.

"Denying an athlete control over her body could jeopardize her competitive career and violates Roe and Casey’s basic guarantee that the 'destiny of the woman must be shaped to a large extent on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.'"

The filing also argued for the larger societal benefits afforded by affirming reproductive rights for women athletes.

"Participation in sports generates myriad benefits for girls, women, and society at large," the filing reads. "Athletic participation is associated with positive educational outcomes, including better attendance, higher grades, fewer disciplinary issues, a greater desire to go to college, and higher advanced placement enrollment rates. 

"Girls who participate in sports are more confident, have higher self-esteem, and better body images. These trends are “especially striking among girls from minority groups, who appear to experience greater social and economic mobility, more confidence, and even more personal safety if they have participated in sports.”

A Supreme Court ruling on the Mississippi case is expected by next summer.