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Billie Jean King Needed Hospital Approval and Husband's Signature to Get an Abortion: 'Degrading'

·3-min read
Stars at Wimbledon
Stars at Wimbledon

ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images Billie Jean King

As the Supreme Court debates the legality of Mississippi's ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — and discusses reversing the universal right to abortion granted in Roe v. WadeBillie Jean King is reflecting on the difficulties she had obtaining an abortion in 1971.

The tennis legend, who first shared that she had an abortion in a 2018 interview, was 27 and the top-ranked women's tennis player in the world when she realized she was pregnant after nearly vomiting on the court during a match. King, who has since come out as gay and is now married to her longtime partner Ilana Kloss, was married at the time to her college sweetheart Larry King but their "marriage had been shaky for years," she wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

Still, the couple "agreed that a woman had the right to decide if and when she wanted to be pregnant," she said. "He said he would support whatever choice I made."

King said that she didn't decide to get an abortion because of her tennis career, but because "our lives were so complicated and unpredictable that I couldn't imagine bringing up a child in such chaos."

RELATED: 30 Celebrities Who Have Shared Their Abortion Stories to Help Women Feel Less Alone

King was "fortunate" to live in California at the time, she said, where abortion was already legal, two years before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But she had to prove that the procedure was "therapeutic" and had to be done by a doctor in a hospital.

"Anyone seeking an abortion had to obtain approval from a hospital committee — that is, tell a panel of strangers why they believed their pregnancy would 'gravely impair' their physical and mental health," she said. "Arguing to a dozen or so people I had never met why I qualified for an abortion remains one of the most degrading experiences of my life."

RELATED VIDEO: Woman Whose Conception Sparked Roe v. Wade Case Breaks Silence: 'I'm Keeping a Secret but I Hate It'

Plus, King said, the law required the "indignity" of having her husband sign a consent form, approving her abortion.

"Men remained in charge of not just financial matters but even the right to govern my own body," she said.

King pointed out that the hoops she had to jump through to obtain an abortion was "what it was like where abortion was legal."

RELATED: Megan Rapinoe, Diana Taurasi and 500 Other Athletes Urge Supreme Court to Protect Abortion Rights

"Those less fortunate than me were forced either to continue an unplanned pregnancy or to risk their health obtaining an illegal abortion — if they could find a provider," she added.

King said that if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, women will lose control over their own health, and in turn the strides they've made in working towards economic equality.

"If we lose the ability to control our bodies and our futures, so many of the gains women have made will be undone," she said. "At stake are not only indignities and inequities but the rights to self-determination and equal opportunity that would fall along with Roe."

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