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Billie Jean King said it was 'degrading' that she needed her husband's signature and hospital approval to get an abortion

·3-min read
Tennis legend Billie Jean King looks on in a Women's Doubles semifinal match during 2021.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King watches a Women's Doubles semifinal match in November 2021.Hector Vivas/Getty Images
  • The Washington Post published an op-ed written by legendary tennis player Billie Jean King on Wednesday.

  • King wrote about getting an abortion and argued that the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade.

  • King had to get approval from a hospital committee and obtain her husband's signature for the procedure.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King recalled the difficulties she faced to obtain an abortion in 1971.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post shared an op-ed written by King that examined her experience with abortion and navigating reproductive health. King's op-ed comes as the Mississippi state government asked the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion across the nation.

King, 78, wrote that she underwent the procedure — which required approval from a hospital committee and her former husband's signature — just two years before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

"In early 1971, I became pregnant. It was unexpected. I was 27 years old and the top-ranked women's tennis player in the world," King wrote. "I was on the road constantly to help launch the world's first professional all-women's tour. In fact, I learned I was pregnant after almost throwing up on court during a match."

Billie Jean King won the Ladies' Singles tennis title at the 1966 Wimbledon Championships.
Billie Jean King won the Ladies' Singles tennis title at the 1966 Wimbledon Championships.Mirrorpix/Getty Images

King, who now identifies as part of the LGBTQ community and married Ilana Kloss, was married to her former husband, Larry King, at the time.

Although the pair "were still friends and business partners," King wrote that their marriage "had been shaky for years."

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

King added that her career didn't play a role in her decision to get an abortion. Instead, the couple believed their lives at that time were too "complicated" and "unpredictable" to have a child.

King wrote in the op-ed that she was "fortunate" to live in California where abortion was legal two years before Roe v. Wade and that she also could afford the $580 cost.

However, she still had to prove the abortion would be "therapeutic" and undergo the procedure performed by a doctor in a hospital.

American tennis player Billie Jean King holds the Manchester Silver Challenge Tray after winning the tournament in 1966.
Billie Jean King holds the Manchester Silver Challenge Tray after winning the tournament in 1966.Manchester Daily Express/Getty Images

"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," King wrote. "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."

She continued: "But there was still another indignity: The law required that my husband sign a consent form. Men remained in charge of not just financial matters but even the right to govern my own body."

King argued that if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, "so many of the gains women have made will be undone."

King first revealed she had an abortion in a 2012 interview with Makers.

Representatives for Billie Jean King did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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