Sanya Richards-Ross' Powerful Abortion Story Is Shattering Stigmas

by Cate Carrejo
Patrick Smith/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Sanya Richard-Ross, the track runner who nabbed a bronze and gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is an expectant mother today, but she's speaking out about a past pregnancy that she decided to terminate. In her new book Chasing Grace, the Olympic medalist revealed that she had an abortion the day before she left to participate in the 2008 games.

Showing the power in speaking out about your abortion no matter which emotional space you're coming from, Richards-Ross' upcoming memoir discusses “the guilt and the shame” she felt when telling her now-husband Aaron Ross about the pregnancy and her decision to terminate it. “I made a decision that broke me, and one from which I would not immediately heal,” Richards-Ross explained. "Abortion would now forever be a part of my life. A scarlet letter I never thought I’d wear."

Some women are perfectly confident in their decision to abort and have no problems talking about it. That's great, because it shows people that the experience goes beyond the emotional agony that's often portrayed in the media.

But there is a power in talking about an abortion you might feel uncertain about afterwards, or had a difficult time processing, because it also lets women know that it's ok to experience these doubts and move on with their lives. Women often internalize the societal messages that tell them abortion is evil, but speaking about it publicly can help others who have had abortion sort through that social conditioning.

Rather than letting her doubts consume her, Richards-Ross is using the experience to educate others and prevent abortion for female athletes, which she says are extremely common. "A lot of young women have experienced this, like, I literally don’t know another female track athlete who hasn’t had an abortion, and that’s sad,” Richards-Ross said during an interview with Sports Illustrated.

Richards-Ross attributes the pregnancy rate to misinformation that female athletes are given about their bodies. "In our community, people don’t want to take the pill because you put water weight on, and of course, as an athlete you want to be able to stay as fit and as healthy as possible,” said the former track star. “And then people tell you that when you’re extremely fit you can’t get pregnant because our cycles are shorter, so there’s a lot of mis-education that happens to young women in college."

Part of her talking about her abortion is to make sure more athletes like herself aren't stuck choosing between abortion or their career. "I’m hoping that this will open up some discussions, especially in helping a lot of young women who are in my situation not experience what I did," Richards-Ross said in the Sports Illustrated interview.

On Twitter, Richards-Ross displayed the emotional maturity of a woman who's dealt with pain and grown stronger because of it. "There is no stone anyone can throw or any words anyone can say about me that I didn't feel about myself," she posted online Tuesday. "I choose love and healing over hate."