On Friday night, the 2019 WNBA season tips off with a contest between the Atlanta Dream and Dallas Wings. It’s a pivotal season for the league’s future. Last fall, the WNBA Player’s Association opted out of its current collective bargaining agreement, and players will be spending their spare time during the season fighting for better wages, resources, and support.
But while the league-wide drama both on and off the court remains the utmost importance to the league’s athletes, they’re hardly shutting out the world around them. Over the past few weeks, many players — including 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart — have taken to social media to express their anger and sadness over a recent slate of anti-abortion bills in Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri. The bill passed by the Alabama Senate, perhaps the most extreme of its kind, would punish abortion providers with up to 99 years in prison. There is no exception for rape and incest.
“It’s just amazing that we’re making laws about women’s bodies and trying to make that decision for them,” Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 WNBA MVP and current star forward for the Washington Mystics, told ThinkProgress this week. “I think every person is different. And you can come up and be in different situations. And I think it should be up to you to decide what on earth do you want to do with your body. I can’t imagine if women were making a law that affected men like this, that it would go through. So it’s just we’ve got to keep fighting the fight.”
Her teammate, guard Natasha Cloud, echoed that sentiment.
“You have 25 white men sit into a room and decide that women are now a piece of property that need laws and regulations,” Cloud said after a training-camp practice this week.
“You know, we’re talking about contraceptives, and safe sex, and women having the right to their body and the choice of their body. Abortion in any sense, it isn’t a black and white thing. It’s always a gray area thing. But at the end of the day, that’s not a man’s decision. And at the end of the day, it’s no one else’s business but the female that it’s happening to. It’s a decision for her body, her life, and her well being as well.
“So the fact that it is illegal to have the right to your body, it’s asinine to me.”
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) May 17, 2019
It’s important to note that women — particularly white women — have played a part in signing these bills into laws. Alabama’s abortion ban was sponsored by a woman, state Rep. Terri Collins (R), and signed into law by the state’s woman governor, Kay Ivey (R).
In addition, it’s just as crucial to remember that none of these laws have actually taken effect yet. The Georgia law is slated to go into effect in 2020, and the Alabama bill won’t be enforceable for another six months, if not longer — multiple legal challenges are expected. However, they are all part of a challenge to Roe vs. Wade in that the goal of lawmakers is to spawn lawsuits that will work their way up to the Supreme Court over the next few years. There, conservatives who oppose Roe hold power right now.
“Honestly I’m tired. So very tired of men politicizing our bodies and experiences,” Imani McGee-Stafford, a center for the Dallas Wings, told ThinkProgress. “I feel bad for women who don’t have access to health care and now no longer have choices.”
“I’m not necessarily pro-abortion but I am pro-minding-my-business. I don’t think it’s my right to take away any woman’s choice. I don’t know what I would do if I got pregnant right now but I sure as hell know I don’t want some politician forcing my hand either,” McGee-Stafford added.
“It always baffles me because the main voices that are ‘pro-life’ don’t support welfare or universal health care. They force women to have these babies that they may not want but offer no support during parenthood.”
This most recent spate of anti-choice legislation is not limited to a couple of states. Legislators in Florida and Virginia have vowed to enact similarly tough anti-abortion laws; a lawmaker in Florida said that God told him to do it.
Layshia Clarendon, a 2017 All-Star and guard for the Connecticut Sun, said it’s particularly hard for her to watch so much of the anti-abortion rhetoric being spewed in the name of religion.
“It’s just punch, then punch, then punch again,” Clarendon said. “These are people’s lives. It’s not enough to say, it’s just the South, they do things like that. We often forget that the South is very diverse. This impacts a lot of poor people across races, and especially black women. It’s heartbreaking and disgusting and as a Christian myself, I’m ashamed that there are people who even proclaim to be Christians and do this, and use Jesus as cover.”
Over the past few years, the WNBA’s players have emerged as outspoken leaders in political activism and social justice, and have particularly left their mark, fighting for reproductive health. In 2017, the Seattle Storm held a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood — the first-ever partnership between a pro sports team and and the reproductive health care provider. The following year, when the WNBA as a whole launched its social-justice initiative, “Take a Seat, Take a Stand,” Planned Parenthood was one of its official partners.
When the Trump administration took steps to defund Planned Parenthood last summer, the WNBA issued a statement of support for the organization.
“Let me start by saying I hold a masers in health administration, and I previously worked in the heath care arena,” Lisa Borders, who served as WNBA president until last fall, told ThinkProgress in 2018.
“And let’s just say I have the privilege and pleasure of running a women’s league. Any time I see anyone directly or indirectly attacking women or women’s rights, I feel an obligation to speak up. Planned Parenthood offers incredible health care to women and communities, particularly in rural settings. Planned Parenthood does great work for women who don’t have access to basic, preventative care.”
This current fight is different, however, because it is explicitly about abortion — a word that many in the league that supported the Planned Parenthood partnerships avoided saying outright, as it’s a topic that most athletes have seen as too controversial to touch.
Not this crop of WNBA players, though; they’re ready to use their voices to fight for what is right.
“I think it’s important to continue to use our platforms and voices to amplify the voices of marginalized groups. We are constantly under attack as women. If a man can use his health insurance for Viagra I should be able to use mine for birth control or an abortion,” McGee-Stafford said.
“Men and politicians don’t get to decide what happens with my body and I will continue to fight for women’s rights as long as I can.”