Utah Royals co-owner Ryan Smith says team will help cover costs for abortion services for players, staff members if needed

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said last year that abortion rights would be a consideration for new expansion teams.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ryan Smith at the NBA All-Star game in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023.

Amid concerns about the National Womens Soccer League expanding into states that already limit or could limit abortion rights, Utah Royals officials have promised the club will financially support players and staffers who may opt for the medical procedure.

“I think from our standpoint, it was important across all of our organizations that that medical benefit was available,” co-owner Ryan Smith told The Salt Lake Tribune.

New Royals President Michelle Hyncik said that before the team signed on to return to the NWSL, multiple conversations occurred with the league “about how important women’s health was and [is], even at the ownership levels across their teams and organizations.” She also provided reassurance to current and future members of the organization, from the front office to the players who will eventually wear the Royals crest.

“We’ve always had a long-standing policy in place where if there’s a certain medical procedure that isn’t provided in Utah that we’ll make sure we provide reimbursements towards costs and to ensure that players and women throughout staff and organizations get the care that they need,” Hyncik said.

The state has a trigger law in place that went into effect when Roe v. Wade was overturned, but that law is currently on hold and tied up in litigation. The legislature also passed a law during the 2023 session that will effectively ban abortion clinics statewide, and Gov. Spencer Cox has already indicated that he will sign it.

Nearly a year before the Royals were officially announced to return to the Beehive State, National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman was clear that when she considered potential markets to which to expand the league, abortion rights would be part of the decision-making process.

“It’s one of the things that we’re actually currently analyzing, which is looking even at our current markets to see where we have some differentiation between our values and what we stand behind relative to where we have teams located, and what are the solutions we can put in place that we feel comfortable we can commit to and execute on,” Berman said in July 2022, per an ESPN report. “Certainly in the context of expansion, that would be part of the analysis.”

On Saturday, Berman said the league assesses reproductive rights not only for potential expansion teams, but also for teams already in the league.

“We have those safety nets and systems in place through the league office where players can have their medical needs addressed, even if they have to leave the market, and we are here to support them to the extent that’s necessary,” Berman said. “And we know the ownership group here [in Utah] is aligned to ensure that that’s the case.”

Megan Rapinoe, who plays for the OL Reign and re-signed for the 2023 season, is one of the more vocal women’s soccer players in the world when it comes to social issues. She called the overturning of Roe v. Wade last June “sad” and “cruel.”

“We know that the lack of abortion does not stop people from having abortions,” Rapinoe said at the time. “It stops people from having safe abortions. ... I just can’t understate how sad and how cruel this is. I think the cruelty is the point, because this is not pro-life by any means.”

The NWSL Players Association released a strong statement in a Twitter thread against the overturning of the landmark law.

“This ‘pro-life’ decision will result in the deaths of an untold number of women, particularly in marginalized communities,” the NWSLPA statement said in part. “This decision is not only wrong on human terms, it’s also wrong in the law.”

Utah Jazz ownership has put verbal and financial support to other social causes in recent years, including donating millions of dollars to LGBTQ+ advocacy group Encircle. Asked about abortion rights in Utah, Smith pointed to the work his organizations have done with marginalized groups across the state.”

“We think we’re working hard on the right stuff,” he said.

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