Gains of Title IX are not possible without access to abortion rights | Opinion

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A day after celebrating Title IX and the far-reaching gains women have made because of it, the Supreme Court stripped away the right that made it all possible.

Without Roe vs. Wade giving women the power to control their bodies and decide their own destinies, Title IX would have been a shell of itself. And now it will be in half of America.

"It’s oddly cruel for this to happen during this time of Title IX, (when we’re) celebrating this piece of legislation that gave so many women the opportunity to make our own choices about what we wanted to do with our lives," an emotional Megan Rapinoe said Friday, hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

"And, in the context of athletics, gave us the opportunity to pursue a unicorn talent to be professional athletes," she said. "Or to go to college ... and get an education and eventually change their situation or choose for themselves what they want their situation to be."

Rapinoe was among 500 current and former women athletes who submitted an amicus brief in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, asserting that the reproductive rights protected by Roe allowed women to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by Title IX.

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An athletic scholarship does little good to the woman who finds herself pregnant unexpectedly or as the result of rape or incest. Meticulous decisions about how to train and when to compete mean little if a female professional athlete can’t make the most fundamental decisions about her own body. The already small window Olympic athletes have shrinks even further if the government, not she, gets to make decisions about her health care.

"The ability to control your own body is crucial to an athlete’s success," Joanna Wright, the lead attorney for the women who submitted the brief, told USA TODAY Sports.

"Title IX recognized the importance of sports and other activities to full equality for girls and women, and the overturning of Roe will weaken that," Wright said. "People shaped their lives around this right, and have never known a world in which this right did not exist."

Megan Rapinoe during the bronze medal match against Australia.
Megan Rapinoe during the bronze medal match against Australia.

This goes beyond sports, obviously. The same circumstances that will prevent a basketball player from maximizing her athletic potential are the same that will limit a prospective lawyer or accountant or artist.

But sports made American women, and by extension the whole country, stronger. Better.

Sports gave us confidence and bolstered our self-esteem. Sports taught us to respect our bodies and not waste time with those who didn’t. Sports taught us teamwork and cooperation, skills that are as invaluable in the corporate world as they are on the playing field.

Sports showed us what we were capable of, and taught the people who watched us not to underestimate us. Sports changed how we saw ourselves, and how the rest of society saw us. Young girls and boys now grow up knowing women can do and be anything, because they have watched their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters do it.

And now, in half the country, that’s all at risk.

A female athlete who is going to school in, say, California or New York or Illinois can live her life freely, knowing the decisions she makes about what to do with her body are hers and hers alone. She will not have to fear that getting pregnant will derail her hopes and dreams, or that a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy will end her life.

Female athletes at every SEC school, and most of those in the Big Ten, will.

Access to abortion, and maybe even birth control given Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion, will now be several hours away. Even if they can scrape together the funds required, getting there will be arduous if not impossible, considering the minimum age to rent a car is 25.

But the alternative is a pregnancy that will wreak havoc on a young woman’s body — ask a woman who’s been pregnant to be honest about how traumatic it was — and upend her aspirations.

"In ordering their athletic futures, it is perfectly reasonable, if not necessary, to think about where they’re going to be able to achieve the greatest success. And what the athlete amici said was achieving athletic success requires bodily integrity and decisional autonomy," said Wright, a partner at Boies Schiller and Flexner.

We lost more than just Roe on Friday. Across much of the country, we lost the opportunities that Title IX provides, and we will all be the worse for it.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Roe v. Wade helped make Title IX a success. SCOTUS puts gains at risk

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