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Abortion doping refers to an alleged practice where athletes attempt to exploit a pregnancy for the boosts in progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, blood count, and oxygen intake and then undergoing abortion. While doping has been a practice as old as athletic competition, abortion doping has not been demonstrated anywhere, though it remains a popular rumor in internet circles and it has been vastly overblown and shared by the anti-abortion movement. Stigmatizing pregnancy may harm athlete's health, leading them to withhold information that they are pregnant and therefore avoid medical help.
Abortion is a common phenomenon among athletes, and pregnancy affects 10-15% of the college-student athletes per year, not because they want to exploit a pregnancy, but rather there is a lack of resources to avoid pregnancy among athletes, and that athletes are too embarrassed to report pregnancies to appropriate authorities. Most pregnancies athletes experience is unintended given the amount of measures athletes take to cope with the pregnancy such as hiding the pregnancy while continuing training, feeling pressured or forced to abort, having to choose between financial aid and pregnancy, suffering from the negative perceptions of people with pregnancies, and internet searches on terminating abortions. Several of these reasons tend to be the same ones bolstering arguments in favor of easy and legal access to abortions that respects privacy. Information on pregnancy is often inaccurate; the athletes were told from colleagues that the birth control pill puts on "water weight" and that they simply cannot get pregnant because their menstrual cycles are shorter.
The rumors surrounding abortion doping as well as the hyped media coverage of athletes with pregnancies only adds to the problem as it gives athletes more of a reason to avoid reporting pregnancies and distract from the actual problem of the prevalence of misinformation.
Additionally, a pregnancy is no walk in the park as the accusers seem to imply, as pregnancies also come with morning sickness and fatigue, both which can significantly impact performance.
The rumors swirling about abortion doping has roots in Cold War rivalry and when doping was rampant in Russia, Russia's sister states, and East Germany. There has been renewed interest in this idea during the 2018 Olympics where Russia was accused of doping its athletes.
A frequently cited case of abortion doping traces back to an alleged testimonial from Olga Kovalenko, who also apparently claimed that the practice was widespread among Soviet athletes in the 1970s and that those that didn't have boyfriends were forced to have sex with their coaches if they wanted to stay in the team. The real Kovalenko, however, saw the interview while she was on a cruise and disputed the story and won a defamation lawsuit against SPEED Info for 35,000 rubles. Despite this, the story continues to be reported in the press such as The Guardian's Observer. To be fair, the story remained confusing after the lawsuit, as Kovalenko didn't take German television station RTL to court, and the coach also commented in the RTL interview.
It is common that athletes try to improve their blood count to improve oxygen intake. Being pregnant does mean the heart is bigger, and the heart pumps more blood, so abortion doping can be argued as a form of blood doping. There is little evidence of its efficacy, however, as James Pivarnik, an exercise physiologist and epidemiologist, stated that the benefits don't occur until the second trimester, which is the point where the pregnant person gains weight and negates those benefits.
As expected, the so-called pro-life movement have used stories of alleged abortion doping to weave into a big fabric that abortion is evidence of the Great Evil of society, that athletes would go through any lengths, even eating children, just to win at sports. Oliver Brown from the Daily Telegraph is appalled that Richards-Ross decided to prioritize her successful career over
being a baby maker the "gift of life". He refers to an observation by Richards-Ross that "I literally don't know another female track athlete who hasn't had an abortion" (specifically her direct acquaintances) as "incendiary" probably because the existence of abortions is offensive to him.
- Kasprak, A. (February 12, 2002). Is 'Abortion Doping' a Real Practice?. Snopes. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- A. Sorensen, Elizabeth. (2009). Debunking the Myth of Pregnancy Doping. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport. 2. 269-285. 10.1123/jis.2.2.269.
- Rumsby, D. (June 7, 2017) 'I don’t know another female track-and-field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion', says London 2012 double-gold medallist . The Telegraph.
- Oliver, B. (November 14, 2015). Sports cheats have been at it for years: it’s always about greed and politics. The Guardian. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- Hamzelou, J. (April 20, 2017). How pregnancy could affect an elite athlete like Serena Williams. New Scientist. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
- "Abortion doping is fairly common in elite track and field. It's a filthy cesspool at the top. You should not watch or support elite runners. They'd eat their own children if it got them the gold. Sadly, I'm not even joking." -random poster from some forum called "letsrun"
- Brown, O. (June 8, 2017). Sanya Richards-Ross breaks silence on sport’s last taboo with incendiary claim about prevalence of abortions