Regardless of the circumstances surrounding an abortion decision, no woman should be exempt from mourning the loss of her child.
While post-abortive emotions can vary from woman to woman, if society is not receptive to the idea that some women carry a deep wound resulting from an abortion, our culture cannot provide them with the space to share those complex feelings.
Grief is a natural response to death, and while it can be a painful process, it is usually a necessary step toward healing. But after an abortion, some women may feel tempted to bury these emotions, unable to reconcile with the part they played in their child’s death.
Coming to terms with the reality of an abortion decision can be a struggle, but no woman should have to shoulder the burden of such grief alone. And that standard still applies to Olympic medalists like Brianna McNeal.
According to USA Today, the Court of Arbitration for Sport announced it would uphold a decision made by the Athletics Integrity Unit last month to ban McNeal from competing for five years.
The athlete, who won the Olympic gold in 2016 in the 100-meter hurdle race, was suspended for missing a mandatory drug test last January and allegedly tampering with a doctor’s note.
But McNeal claimed trauma from an abortion she had that year caused her to make a mistake.
As The New York Times reported, McNeal was in bed recovering when the drug tester came to her house on Jan. 12, and she did not hear the knock.
When AIU investigators requested an explanation eighteen days later for the missed test, the athlete did not tell them about the abortion. Instead, McNeal told them a “surprise medical procedure” left her bedridden.
McNeal then requested a doctor’s note from the abortion facility to prove her story, but the note did not disclose the nature of the procedure. When the note arrived a month later, the athlete alleged she thought the clinic put the wrong date, prompting her to change it from Jan. 10 to Jan. 11.
The AIU noticed the altered date, however, and requested further documentation of the procedure from McNeal. After receiving two more doctor’s notes, the athlete altered the dates on them both, believing they, too, showed the wrong date.
When investigators saw the additional notes had also been tampered with, they asked for McNeal’s medical records from the abortion facility.
While the documents proved the abortion indeed took place, it was actually McNeal who had the procedure’s date wrong, not the clinic. The athlete underwent the abortion on January 10, not the day after as she initially thought.
In the resulting disciplinary hearing, McNeal argued the trauma resulting from the abortion caused her to mix up the date. She also claimed she did not realize it was against the rules to alter the date on the doctor’s note.
Sharing more of her abortion story, McNeal said her Christian faith inspired feelings of guilt about terminating her pregnancy, an action she thought was necessary at the time.
The athlete revealed the reason she had the abortion was so she could compete in the 2020 Olympics, only for the games to be delayed due to the coronavirus. McNeal was reportedly “crushed” by the news, and it seems the regret over the abortion only worsened upon discovering the games would not have interfered with her having her baby after all.
But World Athletics officials expressed skepticism at McNeal’s claims she was suffering emotionally from the abortion. The organization cited the athlete’s continued posting on social media and participation in competitions as the reason for doubting her story.
In addition, the organization questioned why McNeal did not seek psychiatric help if she was truly depressed about the abortion, and she responded by saying she sought treatment from a spiritual advisor instead.
“For me, growing up in the Black community, that’s how we cope with everything,” she said. “We go to church, and we talk to our pastor or spiritual advisor.”
Still, it appears that officials were unmoved, considering McNeal’s suspension has been allowed to remain.
The athlete elaborated further about the way she was treated during the hearing in a Friday post on her Instagram page, expressing shock at the lack of sympathy extended toward her situation.
“I couldn’t stop thinking to myself ‘how could these men tell me what type of experience I should have had; how can these men who would never in a million years be in my shoes tell me anything I should be going through’”?
“So instead of being met with some sort of compassion and understanding, I was being interrogated and stigmatized,” the athlete added.
For many women left hurting after an abortion, their reactions may not always be understood by others.
The consequence of treating abortion as a “woman’s right” has left our culture ill-prepared for the reality that many women suffer emotional scars after terminating their pregnancies.
Even if officials did not believe the abortion caused McNeal to alter the dates on the doctor’s notes, it was wrong to deny the existence of her post-abortive grief altogether.
Women like McNeal should not have to fight to convince others that they regret their abortion. Instead, society must give them the space they need to be heard so they may find healing.
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