Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Women’s College World Series should leave Oklahoma over abortion law


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Crissy Perham made her only Olympics in 1992 at the Summer Games in Barcelona. She co-captained the women’s swimming team with the legendary Dara Torres and won three medals: gold on a world record-setting medley-relay team, gold on the 4×100-meter free relay team and silver in the 100 butterfly.

It was my first Olympics, too. I covered her achievements. But I knew nothing of the distress she had overcome to get so far until September, almost 30 years later, when she revealed the rest of her story — and the impact it had on her life — to the Supreme Court.

“When I was in college, I was on birth control, but I accidentally became pregnant,” Perham wrote to the court. “I was on scholarship, I was just starting to succeed in my sport, and I didn’t want to take a year off. I decided to have an abortion.

“I wasn’t ready to be a mom, and having an abortion felt like I was given a second chance at life. I was able to take control of my future … got better in school, I started training really hard, and that summer, I won my first national championship.

“I made the choice that was right for me and my future, and I stand by my decision. That choice ultimately led me to being an Olympian, a college graduate, and a proud mother today. I’m finally speaking up and sharing my story because there shouldn’t be a stigma surrounding personal healthcare decisions. Women know what’s best for our own bodies and lives, and our autonomy needs to be respected.”

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Perham was one of several hundred women’s athletes who in September filed an amicus brief opposing a Mississippi law that threatened the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade safeguarding access to abortion without government interference. And she was alone among the amici curiae to shed anonymity in telling her story to underscore how forcing women’s athletes, the brief stated, “ … to carry pregnancies … could derail women’s athletic careers, academic futures, and economic livelihoods at a large scale.”

All of which is why this season’s Women’s College World Series — scheduled to conclude this week in a best-of-three series between defending champion Oklahoma and Texas — should be the last we witness in Oklahoma City, where it has been staged every year except one since 1990. After all, since Perham and other women’s athletes raised their opposition to the rising threats against a woman’s bodily freedom, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) and his GOP-controlled legislature exceeded Mississippi and every other state in restricting access to abortion. They also added a provision, like some other states, making it a felony to dare aid women seeking relief from unwanted pregnancies.

In short, the state of Oklahoma just became a state anathema to women’s athletes. Therefore, it disqualified itself as a host for women’s sports.

This, after all the state and its flagship university, the University of Oklahoma, have done to promote women’s college softball into one of the most entertaining and exciting college sports. This, after all it has benefited from the resulting fans, who last year dropped more than $20 million into the Oklahoma City coffers.

I have been one of those fans. And after attending, I thought anchoring the World Series in Oklahoma City deprived the rest of the country of a spectacular event, not unlike the men’s and women’s basketball championships, which are moved around the country, and the college football championship game. Why should Oklahoma City be the only beneficiary?

Others have wondered whether the tournament should travel because keeping it in Oklahoma City gives Oklahoma, whose campus is just a half-hour’s drive south on Interstate 35 in Norman, an unfair advantage. OU did win three of five crowns between 2013 and 2017. But UCLA and Arizona have won more titles in Oklahoma City since 1990 than has Oklahoma. Oklahoma is good because it has the two-time national player of the year, slugger Jocelyn Alo, and two of the nine other player of the year finalists.

The suggestion that Oklahoma City, now nicknamed the Softball Capital of the World, houses the only world-class stadium, USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, worthy of hosting the championship falls flat, too. Arizona, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Oregon, Texas A&M, Oregon and Washington have top-shelf stadiums that could be expanded to rival the 14,000 seats in Oklahoma City.

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But not all are worthy hosts. The Louisiana legislature on Monday sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) an antiabortion bill not unlike that Oklahoma lawmakers crafted. And Edwards is expected to sign it.

Republican-led legislatures in Arizona and Florida voted in March to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks, not unlike the Mississippi law that prompted women’s athletes to publicly dissent.

Texas’s regressive GOP legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) codified their so-called Heartbeat Bill in the same month Perham and her fellow athletes filed their amicus brief. It outlaws abortion at the detection of cardiac activity, hence the name.

But some of those other stadiums are in states that are friends to the women the World Series celebrates. Oregon and Washington are protective of reproductive rights. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) even denounced the leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would dismantle Roe v. Wade and said his home state would be sanctuary for women from elsewhere who suddenly found themselves without choice in their own states. “They will be welcome, and they will be safe,” Inslee announced.

Oklahoma is no longer welcoming to the young women who have made Oklahoma City the place to be in early June. The NCAA should respect what is turning into its newest cash cow and find a more hospitable place for young women’s athletes to play.

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