by David Closson
August 13, 2021
Simone Biles is in the news once again. After winning two Olympic medals in Tokyo and initiating an important conversation about athletes and mental health, the gymnast used her social media platform on Monday to express support for abortion. Given Biles’ Catholic faith and personal experience in the foster care system, her comments reveal an important disconnect in the gymnasts’ worldview that is worth discussing.
Biles became a household name in 2016 following her performance at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she won four gold medals and became only the second American female gymnast to win both the individual all-around and the team gold at the same Olympiad. She won two more medals last week in Tokyo, cementing her legacy as one of the best gymnasts in the history of the sport. With a career total of seven Olympic and 25 World Championship medals, Biles is now one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time.
While Biles’ athletic success was one of the storylines from the 32nd Olympiad, her decision to withdraw from some of her events for the sake of her mental health garnered even more attention. Commentators, health professionals, and other athletes praised Biles, and her decision sparked an important conversation about mental health.
An Instagram Uproar
Like many popular athletes, Biles has amassed a large following on social media. She recently asked her 6.9 million Instagram followers to submit their “unpopular opinions.” Initial topics were light-hearted, and Biles weighed in on questions ranging from ketchup to the singer Beyoncé. However, the tone shifted when a fan submitted their opinion that “abortion is wrong.”
In response, Biles wrote, “I already know this is going to start the biggest argument & may even lose followers BUT. I’m very much pro-choice. Your body. your choice.” She proceeded to talk about the foster care system, noting, “Also for everyone gonna say ‘just put it up for adoption’ it’s not that easy & coming from someone who was in the foster care system TRUST me foster care system is broken & it’s TOUGH. especially on the kids & young adults who age out & adoption is expensive … im just saying.”
Not surprisingly, Biles’ comments received a lot of attention. Within hours, Planned Parenthood affiliates praised the gymnast and thanked her for an “incredible post.” Meanwhile, pro-life leaders lamented Biles’ comments. Lila Rose tweeted, “Incredibly sad and awful. To have overcome a broken system as triumphantly as she has—yet wish death for other kids [because] they may face foster care is beyond fathoming.” Biles responded to the initial pushback, clarifying in a tweet, “I did NOT say I support to abort rather than to put [children] through the foster care system. What I did imply is that you should not control some elses body/decision.”
Biles’ Life Story Reminds Us That Every Life is Precious
From a worldview standpoint, there are a few important points to note. First, Biles’ personal experience in the foster care system informs how she thinks about these issues. Everyone has a worldview—i.e., the lens through which you see, understand, and interpret your world—and Biles’ worldview has been molded in part by her formative years. As has been well-documented, Biles’ biological mother struggled with drugs and alcohol, and Simone and her siblings were in and out of foster care for about three years. Adopted by her grandparents when she was six, Biles was raised by them and encouraged to pursue gymnastics. Significantly, she never forgot her early upbringing and has used her platform to encourage children in foster care and worked with sponsors to provide clothes and school supplies for at-risk children.
Given her personal story, Biles should have plenty of reasons to be pro-life. She overcame great odds to become one of the most decorated Olympic athletes of all time. Yes, America’s foster care system has its challenges and adoption can be traumatic. No one questions that life dealt Simone Biles a difficult hand. It is true that many children in her position struggle for the rest of their lives. But one of the reasons Biles’ story has inspired so many is that she overcame the challenges dealt to her.
And yet, tragically, Biles has embraced the popular slogan, “My body, my choice.” However, as pro-life advocates have pointed out, a woman’s autonomy over her own body does not include the right to end the life of another innocent human being, even if that human being is temporarily dependent on her. Any sound argument for bodily autonomy cannot ignore the rights of preborn children who have their own bodies which merit respect and protection.
Furthermore, aborting the children of women in poverty or crisis does nothing to fix imperfections in the foster care and adoption process. All it does is create victims by ending the life of an innocent child and scarring a woman physically and/or psychologically.
Second, Biles is a practicing Roman Catholic. She grew up attending mass with her parents, travels with her rosary, and made it a practice to light a candle to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, before big events. Although many professing Catholics hold positions on moral issues contrary to Catholic social teaching (Catholic politicians such as President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are outspoken supporters of abortion), it is important to remember that the Roman Catholic Church itself is firmly opposed to abortion. In fact, in 2016, Pope Francis said, “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life.” In the words of the Catholic Catechism, “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” In short, support for abortion is out of step with the Church; faithful Christians ought to know, support, and champion the Church’s teaching on life.
Finally, Biles is right that the foster care system is broken. She’s right that the system is “tough,” especially for older children and those who “age out.” She’s also right that adoption is unnecessarily expensive. However, a pro-life ethic consistent with the gymnast’s faith requires an all-of-the-above approach. Policymakers and church leaders should work together to reform the foster care system. Adoption should be easier and less expensive. But ending the life of an innocent human being is not the answer. Everyone should be given the same chance that Biles was given; everyone deserves an opportunity at life and an opportunity to pursue their dreams. Even amid the most challenging circumstances, human life is precious and deserves protection.
An Opportunity for Prayer, Study, and Witness
Christians observing the latest news cycle featuring the Olympic gymnast should do a few things. First, they should pray for Simone Biles. She has been under a lot of scrutiny over the past five years, both due to her amazing athletic ability and her advocacy for sexual abuse survivors like herself. This scrutiny only intensified when she temporarily withdrew from competition during the Tokyo Olympics in order to focus on her mental health. Even if we disagree with Biles on abortion, Christians should recognize that she is a fellow image-bearer who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
Second, Christians should study what the Bible teaches on abortion. Increasingly, some who identify as Christian claim the Bible is fine with abortion, or at least indifferent. Often, this view is argued from a place of ignorance. Thus, it is important for Christians to know what the Bible teaches about the value and dignity of all human life—born and unborn. Parents especially should teach their children a pro-life ethic informed by the Bible’s teaching on life.
Finally, Christians should strive to live out a pro-life ethic in all areas of their life. From conception to natural death, life is sacred. For those of us who follow Christ, this truth ought to inform how we treat people, the types of policies and politicians we support, and how we communicate our beliefs.