There is little doubt from medical experts that hormonal and other changes in pregnancy impact on physical performance. In the first three months it is known that a woman’s body produces a natural surplus of red blood cells, the type that are rich in oxygen-carrying haemoglobin, to support the growing fetus. A study of athletes before and after pregnancy by Professor James Pivarnik at the Human Energy Research laboratory in Michigan State University has found there is a 60 per cent increase in blood volume and that this could improve the body’s ability to carry oxygen to muscles by up to 30 per cent. This would have obvious positive effects on aerobic capacity. Other possible advantages derive from the surge in hormones pregnancy induces — predominantly progesterone and oestrogen, but also testosterone, could increase muscle strength.
Just following their period, where they gave birth to their first child, female athletes have set several world records. This is accepted as a natural and unintended event.
Rumours arose in the 1970s and 1980s that such physiological improvements during pregnancy led to attempts by East German athletes to enhance their performance by getting pregnant and then having an abortion. Prince Alexandre de Merode, then vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), supported stories that Eastern European athletes do get artificially inseminated and then abort two to three months later in an attempt to boost athletic performance. The prince went on to claim he knew a Swiss Doctor who was performing the procedure, however it has yet to be proven. The procedure was determined not to be illegal by the IOC.
Regarding the incident Greg Whyte, Professor of applied sport and exercise science at Liverpool John Moores University has stated: "It is certainly viable that pregnancies were enforced and then terminated as part of the old East German regime, some doctors have claimed they know that is the case.”
Other unsubstantiated allegations exist, including reports that in the 1970s Russian gymnasts as young as 14 were ordered to have intercourse with their coaches and then have abortions for performance-enhancing benefits.
Testing for abortion doping is virtually impossible, as the only things to test for are the athletes own naturally enriched blood and hormones. While abortion doping is officially banned under United States Olympic rules, there is no ban on getting pregnant. If an athlete was accused of abortion doping they could simply argue that the abortion was not for the temporary physiological benefits. It remains unknown how common the procedure is, and it has yet to be proven if it has been purposefully implemented at all. Opinions vary greatly, it is regarded as completely unfounded by some and is accepted as a worldwide athletic phenomenon by others. A sports medicine expert in Finland has been quoted saying, "Now that drug testing is routine, pregnancy is becoming the favorite way of getting an edge on competition."