Abortion doping refers to the rumoured practice of purposely inducing pregnancy for athletic performance-enhancing benefits, then aborting the pregnancy. While allegations have been made regarding the practice, there is no proof that it has ever been done.
Potential physical benefits
Hormonal and other changes in pregnancy affect physical performance. In the first three months it is known that a woman’s body produces a natural surplus of red blood cells, which are well supplied with oxygen-carrying hemoglobin, in order to support the growing fetus. Other potential advantages are obtained from the surge in hormones that pregnancy induces, predominantly progesterone and estrogen, but also testosterone, which could increase muscle strength. Increases in hormones like relaxin, which loosens the hip joints to prepare for childbirth, may have a performance-enhancing effect on joint mobility. However it is also argued that the advantages would be outweighed by the drawbacks of morning sickness and fatigue, both of which are common in early pregnancy.
Western media outlets began accusing Soviet countries of abortion doping as early as the 1956 Summer Olympics, and allegations were raised again at the 1964 Summer Olympics. Rumours of abortion doping continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, predominately aimed at East German athletes. In 1988, Prince Alexandre de Merode, then vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), supported stories that Eastern European athletes were getting artificially inseminated in an attempt to boost athletic performance and then aborting two to three months later. Merode said he knew a Swiss doctor who was performing the procedure; however, it was never proven. In 1988, Finnish doctor Risto Erkola told the Sunday Mirror "Now that drug testing is routine, pregnancy is becoming the favourite way of getting an edge on competition". Erkola's comment is frequently cited in discussions on abortion doping. According to the fact-checking website Snopes.com, media reports following this claim were skeptical of it, and there was no evidence that Erkola had any first-hand knowledge of the practice. Dr Peter Larkins, then an official of the Australian Sports Medicine Association, also challenged the claim, though Greg Whyte, Professor of applied sport and exercise science at Liverpool John Moores University, has said the East German allegations are plausible.
In 1994, Olga Karasyova, who won a Gold medal in gymnastics at the 1968 Summer Olympics, was reported to have given an interview with German television station RTL Television as well as a Russian newspaper. The interviews quoted her as stating that abortion doping was widespread among Soviet athletes in the 1970s, and that girls as young as 14 were being forced to have sex with their coaches. Karasyova, however, later said the person who had given the interviews was an imposter, and she successfully sued the Russian newspaper for defamation. Despite her legal victory, the original interviews attributed to her continue to be reported as facts by some third parties.
A 2017 article by Snopes.com categorises abortion doping as "unproven", concluding that the practice is confirmed only by the dubious interview with Karasyova, is "buttressed by speculative science, and are largely amplified in recent years by anti-abortion groups". Snopes accuse anti-abortion groups of selective reporting and using poorly sourced arguments when writing articles about the subject. Multiple sources have concluded there is no proof that abortion doping has ever actually been done.
While abortion doping is officially banned under United States Olympic rules, there is no ban on getting pregnant. If an athlete was accused of abortion doping, she could simply argue that the pregnancy was not induced for the temporary physiological benefits. The procedure was determined not to be illegal by the IOC.
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