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Mom Athlete Asked If She Ever Considered an Abortion — and Fans Everywhere Cringe

Image Source: Beth Gerdes/Instagram
Image Source: Beth Gerdes/Instagram

Imagine this: You’re a successful professional being interviewed about the challenges of having a child during the peak of your career.

In this day and age of work-life balance debates and concerns about workplace gender equality, that’s pretty standard ground to cover … except, perhaps, if the interviewer goes one step further and asks if you’d ever considered an abortion.

Cue the awkward silence … and then no small degree of outrage, at least from your fans. That’s what some in the triathlete community are feeling after reading an interview published on the triathlon news website Slowtwitch.com. The question & answer article, featuring pro triathlete and new mom Beth Gerdes, focused largely on Gerdes’ workouts and training regimen during and after her pregnancy. It also included the question: “Did you two at one point consider not having the baby, or was that a thought that never crossed your mind?”

Gerdes was clearly surprised — she started her answer with “Seriously? This is a question?” — but still managed to respond to the writer, Slowtwitch Editor-in-Chief Herbert Krabel. She said:

No, we never considered it. I admit I was terrified at first, but Luke (Gerdes’ partner and a fellow athlete) was very excited from the get go. We actually found out that I was pregnant two days before Ironman Hawaii 2013. Luke came 2nd that year so I’d say it was some good motivation for him.

Krabel’s question incited anger from men and women.

“Is it just me or is anybody else really bothered by the fact that he asked whether Beth and Luke ever thought about not keeping the baby!? I find that incredibly rude and crossing a boundary. Even if they ever did have those thoughts, it’s none of Slowtwitch’s damn business! I would have ended the interview right there if I were in her shoes,” Facebook user Marc Teichmann wrote in a comment below the article.

Triathlete Kelly Burns Gallagher (who, in full disclosure, is a friend of mine) devoted a blog post to the issue, arguing that “A woman’s choice with a regard to a pregnancy is a completely inappropriate topic for an interview, any interview, let alone a triathlon-related interview.”

The backlash was enough for Krabel to rethink what he published. He later deleted that particular question-and-answer segment from his story, and, the following day, posted an apology on Slowtwitch, conceding that he had “asked a very personal and in hindsight inappropriate question.”

I’ll admit that this particular subject is a tough one for me to cover. As a journalist, I’m loathe to criticize a fellow journalist for simply asking a question. And yet, I’ve grown increasingly sensitive to biased media portrayals of accomplished women vs. accomplished men — and Krabel’s question definitely made me uncomfortable.

In her blog, Burns Gallagher notes that Slowtwitch has never asked male triathletes whether they’d considered “not having the baby.” While it’s true that pregnancy is going to exact a physical toll on a female athlete, new parenthood can affect the health of both sexes: the sleepless nights, the little-to-no opportunities for real relaxation, etc. can wreak havoc on a mom or dad’s body. So if Krabel intends to continue asking women athletes whether they’d consider terminating their pregnancies, he might as well ask the same of triathletes whose wives have given birth.

Bryan Hill/Instagram
Image Source: Bryan Hill/Instagram

There’s another gender equality issue at play here. To qualify for the biggest triathlon in the world, the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii — the race is known to many as just “Kona”  — triathletes must attain points by participating in other races. If you happen to be pregnant or recovering from childbirth and therefore unable to race, you miss out on opportunities to accumulate points and take part in Kona. (The race, by the way, currently allows a maximum of 35 women competitors vs. 50 men. Sigh. That’s a gender issue for another day.)

In that context, you might understand why family planning would be on Krabel’s mind.

And yet … I know there were better, more tactful ways to broach the subject. Perhaps something along the lines of “Early on, did you worry about how your pregnancy would affect your racing?” Then Gerdes wouldn’t have been put on the spot about a controversial subject but still could have raised the possibility of abortion, if she’d wanted to. Krabel later made the same point in his apology note.

Of course, it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback. (I bet Krabel could look into some of my past Q&As and offer his own legitimate critiques of my interview questions.) Plus, as one commenter noted on Burns Gallagher’s blog, if abortion didn’t have such a stigma attached to it, the question itself wouldn’t have been considered taboo.

Without the stigma, would conversations about abortion become more commonplace? Would asking more questions — or even one question, as Krabel did — help reduce the stigma? Or is it unfair to thrust a question about one of the most politically-charged issues out there on an athlete who, at the end of the day, really just wants to race?

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