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During the national anthem before the elite women’s criterium road race at the USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships on Friday, over half of the field took to one knee.
The gesture was a direct response to the news from earlier Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade which guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion services.
Heidi Franz (InstaFund Pro Cycling) told VeloNews at the start of the race that she felt compelled to act before Friday’s event after learning of the Supreme Court ruling.
“I felt in my gut that I wanted to do something so I reached out to other people to see what their feelings were as well,” she said. “My teammate Maddy [Ward] had told me that one of the pro men’s racers had reached out to her and asked if we were organizing anything, so then it was like, we should really do something.”
Franz reached out to friends and fellow racers Brenna Wrye-Simpson (DNA Pro Cycling) and Alexis Ryan (L39ION of Los Angeles) and the three discussed what they might be comfortable doing. Ryan suggested that they take a knee, and the others agreed on the gesture.
The act of taking a knee before a sporting event originated in 2016, when NFL football player Colin Kaepernick began kneeling on the sidelines at games during the U.S. national anthem. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback was protesting against police brutality and racism, following a spate of police-inflicted deaths of Black Americans including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland.
Franz said that it was important to make a statement in the immediacy of the decision.
“I care a lot about these things, and I care a lot about standing up for ourselves and standing up for other people,” she said.
In the hours that followed the Roe v. Wade announcement, some states, including Texas and Missouri, moved swiftly to ban abortion outright. Twenty more are poised to immediately ban or acutely curtail access to abortions with the Supreme Court’s decision.
Tennessee, which is hosting USA Cycling’s pro road races for the fifth year, has a “trigger ban” in place, which empowers the state to enact a near-total abortion ban across the state within 30 days of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.