It’s been more than a month since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. wade and revoked the constitutional right to abortion care, a decision that has had massive ramifications for women across the United States – including in the world of sports.
Yet with the start of the fall sports season just weeks away, some of those ramifications have not yet been realized. And, especially at the college level, questions remain.
The NCAA has been largely mum on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision and how it will impact athletes at member schools, but it has addressed abortion before – in a 107-page model policywith guidelines on how schools should care for pregnant athletes.
Here is what that policy says, and what it could mean for NCAA athletes moving forward.
How are pregnant athletes protected?
The NCAA document, titled “Pregnant and Parenting Student-Athletes: Resources and Model Policies,” was released in 2008. It covers a range of issues related to athlete pregnancies, including broad legal guidance and school policy recommendations.
The model discourages schools from requiring athletes to disclose if they are pregnant, for example. And it outlines federal protections for pregnant athletes, specifically that they cannot be excluded from the team or denied financial aid because of “pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.”
Is abortion care mentioned?
The policy broadly states that pregnant athletes should be entitled to “a full range of choices, including abortion or having the child, and withdrawing from or staying on the team.”
Under a section titled “worst case scenarios,” the document references news articles about athletes who have been pressured by a coach to receive an abortion, or kicked off the team after informing a coach that they received an abortion.
The document specifically notes that, under Title IX regulations, students cannot be penalized in any way for seeking, receiving or recovering from “a legal abortion.”
It is unclear what that means for schools in states where it is now illegal to obtain an abortion, including Alabama, Missouri and Texas.
Who covers medical costs?
The model policy states that, under Title IX, schools and athletics departments must cover medical costs associated with pregnancy as they would for “other temporary illnesses or injuries,” and to the same extent that such benefits are available to non-athletes on campus.
It also stipulates that, while Title IX does not require schools to pay for abortion care, “it does not prohibit institutions from covering these services.”
“Medical procedures or services necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman, including abortion, or to address complications related to an abortion, are not exempt from Title IX and are treated like other types of medical care,” the document states.
Will the model policy be updated?
NCAA spokesperson Chris Radford told USA TODAY Sports in an e-mail that the model policy has not been updated since its initial release in 2008.
It is unclear whether the document will be revised in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision.
“I can’t speculate on any future revisions or updates,” Radford said, “but the NCAA is continuously evaluating emerging health and safety issues that may directly impact student-athletes and the membership that it supports.”
How will athletics departments proceed?
As athletes return to campus in the coming weeks, athletics departments are likely to seek guidance from the NCAA but largely take their cues from university attorneys, depending on the laws in their state.
“It’s going to be a bumpy ride before it’s all resolved from a legal perspective,” National Association of College and University Attorneys president Ona Alston Dosunmu said last week, according to Inside Higher Ed.
What about out-of-state abortions?
One of the key questions will be whether university employees in states with abortion bans – including athletics administrators – could help facilitate out-of-state travel for pregnant students to receive the procedure.
Several major corporations have implemented policies to this effect, but it’s a much trickier situation for public schools that receive state funding.
“While some states have laws that specifically make aiding and abetting an abortion illegal, it may still be illegal to do so in other states even if they don’t have that language in their abortion statute,” Texas Tech law professor Kimberley Harris told NPR earlier this month.
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.