Some Athletes Used Abortions As Performance-Enhancing Drugs

“For every Olympic champion, there at least 350 invalids [. . .] There are young people so worn out by the intensive training that they come out of it mentally blank, which is even more painful than a deformed spine.” —Hans Georg Aschenbach

In A Nutshell

In the first three months of pregnancy, women produce a surplus of red blood cells and hormones in order to support the fetus. Some studies have indicated that the changes can give women an advantage in athletic performance. In the 1970s, rumors began to circulate that East Germany was forcing its athletes to get pregnant before the Olympics in order to take advantage of the hormone changes. The practice became known as abortion doping and was investigated by the Olympic Committee.

The Whole Bushel

A woman’s body undergoes a series of changes once pregnant. In order to support the fetus, she produces a natural supply of red blood cells. The cells are rich in oxygen-carrying hemoglobin and can improve the body’s ability to carry oxygen to the muscles. The increased blood flow can potentially give pregnant women an advantage in aerobic capacity and the ability to run longer, swim faster, or ride a bike with more stamina. During pregnancy, women experience an increase in the hormones progesterone, oestrogen, and testosterone, which gives them more strength and power. Mothers will also experience a rise in relaxin, which loosens hip joints and improves joint mobility.

In the 1960s, East Germany started to dominate the Olympic Games and captured a large number of world records. It was revealed that the government had forced many athletes to take steroids. In 2005, 190 East German competitors filed suit against the government in an attempt to get recognition for the abuse, which caused numerous medical conditions.

In the 1980s, people were shocked after allegations surfaced that athletes in East Germany were being forced to get pregnant before the Olympics in order to take advantage of the hormone changes. The women would then terminate the pregnancy after three months. The story became known as the “abortion doping scandal” and was investigated by the Olympic Committee in 1988. The allegations were never proven to be true, but abortion doping is officially banned under Olympic rules.

The rule is controversial and will never be enforced because it isn’t illegal to get pregnant. Dr David James, a researcher from the University of Gloucester, says the effects of pregnancy on performance are difficult to study. “Researchers and pregnant women aren’t enthusiastic about participating in studies in which they could possibly endanger babies. Consequently, there are few confirmed findings on the subject.”

Show Me The Proof

Sportswomen benefit from pregnancy
Forgotten victims of East German doping take their battle to court
Baby Boost: For some female athletes, pregnancy and childbirth may improve their performance

  • Hillyard

    Just sounds weird. Abortion doping, doesn’t compute.

  • celeѕтнra

    Are they really THAT desperate to win? Sigh, I need no answer for that.

  • Exiled Phoenix

    As an intelligent species, If we can think it. We can create it. I would not put this past our capabilities.

  • MissKingdomVII

    Abortion doping… that just screws with my head. It’s like my brain can’t even store that info. It makes no sense.

  • Laura Desaulniers Lewis

    Um, I’m almost 10 weeks pregnant and there is nothing I’d like less than to compete in the Olympics. Nausea, vomiting and being so tired I feel like a zombie…I just don’t see how that makes for peak performance.

    • I agree. During the first 4 months of my pregnancies, while I could swim easily and well, nausea was intense. I can’t imagine wanting to train or compete.

      bytheway, it does get better.

    • inconspicuous detective

      so as an athlete, don’t go out and have sex unprotected when you have training to do or an event coming up. stupid decision. like diving off of a cliff into water you *know* is too damn shallow three weeks before a big track meet.

      • Teri W.

        Traditionally called Breaking Training.

        • inconspicuous detective

          thank you haha

  • This churns my stomach and no, that’s not a morning sickness pun.

  • Caroline

    Yea, I’m calling BS on this one. Not that I am saying no one has ever tried it, but anyone who has a thorough understanding of pregnancy (and the physiological changes associated with pregnancy) would realize that any potential athletic benefits of the increase in blood supply and hormone production would be more than neutralized by other effects of pregnancy, including increased fatty tissue (relative to muscle tissue), decreased respiratory function, tidal volume (the volume of air inhaled and exhaled during each breath) and overall maximal oxygen consumption during high-intensity exercise, and decreased performance during weight-bearing exercises. There is also substantial evidence suggesting that subjective effort is heightened during pregnancy, so that the same intensity exercise feels harder for a pregnant woman than for a non-pregnant women. All of these effects are more than enough to negate any potential benefits from the hormonal and vascular changes associated with pregnancy.

    My guess is that this rumor was started because around this same time period (’70s), it was discovered that some female East German athletes were being pressured to abort after becoming pregnant because their coaches had them on such intense steroid regimens that the fetus would almost certainly suffer terrible effects from the steroids. Several ‘team doctors’ in East Germany were punished for performing these abortions and for being complicit in the illegal steroid practices.

    There is actually an article debunking this myth ( And hey- if scientific evidence doesn’t convince you, go find a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy and ask how she is feeling. Nine times out of ten, they’re NOT going to tell you ‘In the best shape of my life! I have tons of energy to work out!’

    • kylie

      indeed, ive had two kids and last thing I felt like doing was gymnastics. Still if aborting a child just so you can take steriods/win something, you need to rethink about your life and get your tubes tied/sterilised. These women need a high five, in the face.

      • Guest

        As a former gymnast, I know how strict and competitive gymnastics was, especially in the higher levels. Girls would do basically anything to win and perform well, and sometimes, it’s very saddening what lengths they go to to do better than the rest.

    • inconspicuous detective

      well there are some out there who abort in order to remain able to compete, but that’s just them being dumb enough to have unprotected sex knowing full well what it can do to them. idiots will always wanna act as though their actions bear no consequences i’m afraid.