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Home --> Politics --> Sexuality --> Abortion Doping

Abortion Doping

Claim:   Female athletes competing at the Olympics are getting pregnant just so they can abort the baby and by so doing enhance their performance through hormone doping.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

SALT LAKE CITY - In the Feb. 4 issue of Report magazine, "Brave New World", columnist Celeste McGovern writes of a gruesome method of blood doping used by some female athletes to boost athletic performance. Since enhancing drugs and even regular blood doping can be identified by regulators, the pregnancy-abortion scheme, while officially banned, is virtually impossible to stop.

Mona Passignano, director of research at the Texas pro-life group Life Dynamics is quoted by Report quoting from a Finnish sports medicine expert: "Now that drug testing is routine, pregnancy is becoming the favourite way of getting an edge on competition." One Russian athlete told a reporter that as long ago as the '70s, gymnasts as young as 14 were ordered to sleep with their coaches to get pregnant — and then abort. The procedure is so well known it has made it to the textbooks. LifeSite found the method described in an online textbook in physiology by Dr. Poul-Erik Paulev of the Department of Medical Physiology, University of Copenhagen.

Professor Paulev writes that pregnancy seems to increase muscle strength in female athletes. "Female top athletes - just following the time when they gave birth to their first child - have set several world records. Of course, this is acceptable as a natural and unintended event. However, in some countries female athletes have become pregnant for 2-3 months, in order to improve their performance just after the abortion."

Origins:   The Olympics are plagued by the persistent spectre of cheating. Athletes look to gain an edge wherever they can, and the ethics of sport often come in a limping second to the desire to win. Those who have devoted their lives to becoming the best often have to face a hard choice — do the drugs and use the underhanded methods that will make them the fastest and strongest on the day of competition, or remain drug-free and unmeddled with and watch another competitor take home the gold. And it's hard to set aside a lifetime's worth of work, desire, and hope all in the name of remaining pure. Purity doesn't get your picture on the cereal box; winning does.

Many of the cheating methods are undetectable, which makes the choice to remain free of such tampering even more difficult. It would be so easy for athletes to remain pure if they knew that they would be caught if they did otherwise and that their strongest rivals would likewise have to foreswear performance enhancers or else be turfed out too. But that is far from the case — drug tests can be beaten, and some of the tricks of the trade won't show up on any test, no matter how sophisticated.

Blood doping is such a procedure. The red oxygen-carrying blood cells are drawn from the body several weeks or months before a competition with the plan of reintroducing them at a key moment, thereby super-enriching the blood in time for a particular event. Because the body has replaced the missing blood in the interim, the reintroduction of the stored blood saturates or "dopes" the bloodstream, elevating performance. Its greatest benefits accrue to those in endurance sports such as cycling or cross-country skiing. There's nothing to test for because the super-enriched blood is entirely the athlete's own — no chemicals are involved, so nothing shows up in scans for drugs or synthetic traces of unknown substances.

All this brings us to the question of abortion doping, the notion that female athletes can supercharge their bodies through aborting a fetus just before competition and reabsorbing into their own systems the additional hormones the pregnancy produced. Akin to blood doping, the object is to increase the presence of a natural substance in the athlete, but in this case, it's hormone levels that are being boosted, not the red blood count.

As gruesomely unbelievable as this must sound, there is some reason to believe such a procedure might exist.

Abortion doping was the topic of debate at the First Permanent World Conference on Anti-Doping in Sport held in Ottawa in 1988. According to delegates' statements from that conference, some Eastern European female athletes were having themselves artificially inseminated, then aborting the fetuses two or three months later to take advantage of a perceived hormone boost. Names were not named and specifics were not given, but this was one of the topics under discussion.

Is it lore, or is it real? At this point, it's impossible to make a definitive call. The delegates could have been repeating baseless scuttlebutt they'd heard from others — it was a conference devoted to the evils of performance enhancement in sport, after all, and this story showcased those evils as little else could. On the other hand, they could have been reporting on cases they'd had actual firsthand knowledge of. Without a name, a date, and a checkable medical history, any and all claims that this was in fact going on have to be viewed with
skepticism.

Yet it is also true that one of those making the claims was then-International Olympic Committee vice-president Prince Alexandre de Merode of Belgium. He supported stories that some Eastern European athletes do get artificially inseminated and then abort about two or three months into the pregnancy in an attempt to enhance their athletic performance. The prince said a Swiss doctor was the first to implement the practice of abortion as a way to improve sports results, although it was unclear what beneficial effect it has on women other than changing their hormone profile. The practice was not illegal, and de Merode said the IOC would not be policing motherhood.

It's possible one grain of truth might have been converted by gossip into a false tale. Underage East German athletes were pressured in the 1970s and 1980s to abort, not because anyone was trying to supercharge them with hormones, but because these unfortunate girls had been subjected to heavy regimes of steroids and other harmful drugs. Had they carried to full term, they likely would have delivered malformed or otherwise handicapped children. One former national back stroke swim champion gave birth to a son who had a clubfoot, and another produced a blind daughter.

Doctors who were part of the East German sports machine of those days have since been tried and found guilty of having aided and abetted actual bodily harm against the youngsters in their care. For the most part, their punishment has amounted to being assessed a fine.

Could it be that the reality of East German coaches' forcing their charges to have abortions rather than carry to full term children likely to be born afflicted has been changed through the process of gossip into Svengalis arranging the pregnancies and abortions as part and parcel of an intentional plan to increase hormone levels in those girls? We do have examples of coaches ordering their athletes to abort, although the reason for that command is different; thus one key element of the rumor is in place. It's a theory worth considering, especially in light of the lack of women we can point to who were supposedly killing off their unborn children just to get an undetectable hormone boost.

In any event, unless and until someone with a checkable medical history steps forward and says, "Yes, this happened to me," it's all unproven speculation, no matter how many sources repeat the tale. It's thus premature to mourn for the unborn babies that were conceived solely to enhance their mothers' athletic performance, because there might not have been any.

Barbara "straight dope" Mikkelson

Last updated:   8 September 2007

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2014 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
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  Sources Sources:
    Harvey, Randy.   "East Germans Credit Success to Application of Knowledge."
    Los Angeles Times.   30 August 1988   (p. C1).

    Ormsby, Mary.   "Abortion Part of Training Regimen?"
    The Toronto Star.   29 June 1988   (p. C3).

    Ormsby, Mary.   "Push Is on to Rid Sport of Drugs."
    The Toronto Star.   30 June 1988   (p. F6).

    Deutsche Presse-Agentur.   "Kipke Admits a Role in East German Doping."
    12 January 2000.