Many in the media regularly promote and applaud positive abortion stories. But one Olympian’s story is forcing them to hint at the tragedy of abortion – and the truth that many women choose it because they feel like they have no other choice.
On July 1, the New York Times reported that U.S. hurdler Brianna McNeal said she “didn’t open her door to antidoping officials” last year because she was “traumatized after having an abortion.” Now, she faces a five-year ban on competing, among other penalties. Sports reporter Juliet Macur detailed the plight of the 29-year-old athlete who won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics – and who originally qualified for the 2021 Olympics.
Throughout July, in media interviews and on social media, McNeal admitted that her abortion left her “traumatized,” “shaken,” and “disoriented.”
She missed a doping test last year, she claimed, because “she was in bed recovering from the procedure,” Macur reported. But McNeal was banned because of “flaws in the documentation she submitted to prove that she had an abortion,” Macur added. Among other things, she changed the date of her abortion by one day: from January 10, 2020 to January 11.
“McNeal had been so shaken and disoriented by the abortion, she said, that it didn’t occur to her that changing the date would be a bad thing,” Macur emphasized.
Breaking from the narrative of positive abortion stories, Macur spared no words to recall how abortion crushed McNeal.
During a video call, Macur wrote, McNeal remembered the “very emotional time” enveloping the “very big decision” that “really affected my life.” It was a decision that “left her medicated and in bed,” Macur reported McNeal as saying. It also left her “suffering from depression.”
“McNeal said that as a Christian, she felt guilt about the abortion, which she underwent so she could compete in the 2020 Games,” Macur reported. “She said she was even more crushed when the Games were postponed until 2021, because the delay meant she could have had the baby after all.”
In other words, McNeal felt like abortion was her only choice – her only ticket to success. She isn’t alone. In 2017, Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross revealed that she had an abortion before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“It seemed like I had no choice at all,” the track and field athlete said, NBC reported. She added that “most of the women I knew in my sport have had at least one abortion” and that she didn’t “know another female track athlete who hasn’t had an abortion.”
And yet, other Olympic athletes suggest a different way – and say that their children motivate them. Six-time gold medalist Allyson Felix posts regularly about her daughter on social media – and has spent years championing athlete moms.
“In the moments where every bone in my body aches and I’m questioning if I’m insane to return to the track, a little smile from my baby girl instantly reminds me I’m absolutely where I need to be,” she wrote in 2019 after giving birth. “[N]obody said it would be easy, but it will be worth it.”
But for McNeal, as a Townhall headline for a piece by Rebecca Downs put it, “Ultimately, An Abortion Hurt Rather Than Helped an Olympian's Dreams.”
“It was heartbreaking to have to deal with this whole case and the insensitivity, to be told I should have been doing this instead of that, when they could never know [what it's like] being inside my shoes,” McNeal told Salon in a piece published on July 17.
Officials “totally just forgot about the procedure and focused more so on the error I made,” she confided in the outlet. “I felt like they just did not have any compassion or understanding as to what I went through.”
In multiple interviews, she described the impact of her abortion.
“It’s hard for me not to sit here and cry, honestly,” McNeal told The 19th on July 9, “after reflecting on the emotional burdens” of her abortion, among other things.
“I don’t think that they thought about my mental health at the end of the day,” she told The 19th in another interview, a day earlier. “I know that I was not in a good mental headspace at all, like I was drowning inside. And not a lot of people knew that.”
In a July 2 social media post, the athlete admitted she was “under physical and mental trauma after undergoing an abortion.” It left her “physically and emotionally drained,” she said, for an “entire weekend.”
She also accused investigators of making her “relive this hellish experience.”
Her statements led outlets such as NBC to repeat that McNeal said she “was ‘under physical and mental trauma’ after the abortion.”
Whether the media report on them or not, women who regret their abortions or who have been wounded by abortion exist and want their voices heard. Multiple organizations support and aid these women, such as the Silent No More Awareness Campaign which represents nearly 20,000 members.
Many women have suffered from abortion. But what makes McNeal’s story so incredible is that it’s infusing this truth into the media – and the culture.