PHILADELPHIA — While the passing and signing of the partial-birth abortion ban took the spotlight in early November, a pro-life victory won in a Philadelphia courthouse may well prove to be an even bigger factor in the battle against abortion.

For the first time in the United States, the abortion industry has settled a malpractice lawsuit based on the link between abortion and breast cancer.

Because they had failed to inform a woman of the mental and breast-cancer risks of abortion, Charles Benjamin and the New Jersey-based Cherry Hill Women's Center agreed to a substantial settlement with the plaintiff, identified only as “Sarah” to protect her identity.

“This is the Achilles' heel of the abortion industry,” said attorney Susan Gertz, executive director of the Women's Injury Network, an Ohio-based group that funds lawsuits against the abortion industry.

Meanwhile, a growing number of professional organizations are acknowledging the possible link between abortion and breast cancer.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons said recently that the relationship is “highly plausible” and women may reconsider abortion if they are told the facts, according to LifeNews.com, a news and information Web site covering the abortion issue.

There is a “considerable volume of evidence supporting this link,” said the association's executive director, Dr. Jane Orient.

Five medical organizations, including the Catholic Medical Association and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have now recognized a link.

Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer based in Palos Heights, Ill., agreed that the abortion industry was highly vulnerable to lawsuits such as the one just settled in Philadelphia.

“There are many parallels between the tobacco industry and the abortion industry,” she said. Tobacco companies have been forced to pay huge settlements for hiding the link between their products and cancer.

Abortion supporters, Malec said, “have been following the tobacco industry play-book and using the Joe Camel defense by arguing that there is ‘no proof of a link between abortion and breast cancer.”

She added it is likely that, like the tobacco industry, the abortion industry could find itself facing serious liability for turning a blind eye to the link between their “product” and cancer.

Sarah's Story

According to Gertz, when “Sarah” became pregnant in Pennsylvania, a state with parental-notification laws, her high school guidance counselor suggested she procure an abortion in nearby New Jersey, a state with no such laws. Sarah followed the counselor's advice and, without her parents' knowledge or consent, had an abortion in May 1998 at age 17.

In a separate case, her parents successfully sued the school for violating their parental right to chil-drearing, according to the news Web site WorldNetDaily.com.

Though she has not developed cancer, Sarah filed her lawsuit in May 2000 alleging medical malpractice because she had not been informed of the mental-health and breast-cancer risks associated with abortion. Hours before the case was to go to trial in October, the doctor and clinic settled for what Gertz would only describe as a “significant” amount.

The Cherry Hill Women's Center told the Register it had no comment and suggested a call to the center's administrator, who was unable to be reached.

Sarah also has been diagnosed by a psychiatrist with post-traumatic stress disorder from her abortion, and experts believe it will take years of therapy for her to recover, Gertz said.

The key to both the breast-cancer and mental-health aspects of the lawsuit was that Sarah had not given “informed consent.”

“Her ‘informed consent’ session was done by a college-age woman making $8 or $9 and hour,” Gertz said. “She had no opportunity to consult with the doctor until her feet were in the stirrups and the procedure was about to begin.”

As well, Sarah had a history of sexual abuse, Gertz said, and therefore abortion would have been “contraindicated” had a serious review of her medical history been done.

Both Gertz and Malec said the evidence of a link between abortion and breast cancer is overwhelming.

“Twenty-nine out of 39 studies show there is a link between abortion and breast cancer,” Gertz said.

Malec agreed and said since 1957 there has been “not only epi-demiological research showing a statistical relationship but also a biological explanation that no scientists have been able to disprove.”

According to the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, increased estrogen during pregnancy puts a woman at risk for breast cancer if she aborts before her breasts have completed the changes and development necessary to allow for breastfeeding, a process that typically takes 32 weeks.

Moreover, since 1973, the year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down most states' laws against abortion, Malec pointed out, breast-cancer rates have skyrocketed from one in 12 women to one in seven.

“It used to be an elderly women's disease, but now it is affecting younger women,” she said, adding that abortion is definitely one of the factors in the increased number of cases.

Despite the evidence cited by Gertz and Malec and the fact that a case has been settled, the abortion industry continues to downplay — and even deny — the existence of a link between abortion and breast cancer.

The way Planned Parenthood puts it on its Web site, pro-lifers are “using misinformation as a weapon in their campaign against safe, legal abortion. In the guise of an ostensible concern for women's health, these ideologues point to inconclusive — and at times flawed — studies for alleged evidence of a possible association while ignoring or dismissing overwhelming evidence that induced abortion does not place women at greater risk of breast cancer.”

Part of that “overwhelming evidence” is the 1997 Melbye Study, which the Planned Parenthood Web site refers to as “one of the most highly regarded studies on abortion and breast cancer.”

But Malec calls the Melbye Study an example of the seriously flawed research the abortion industry routinely uses.

“The study has been severely criticized because it misclassified 60,000 women who had had abortions as not having had abortions,” she said. In addition “one-quarter of the women in the study were under the age of 25 — too young to have developed breast cancer.”

And Malec doesn't worry that the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society have yet to address the link. She pointed out that both organizations have been historically slow to recognize other links to cancer — notably tobacco — and the institute's failure to warn of the harms of radioactive fallout from nuclear tests done in the 1960s.

Whatever the industry claims to believe, the settlement “will make doctors aware that they need to start informing women about this [link],” said Malec, who also believes that, as with tobacco, more lawsuits could be in store for the abortion industry.

Gertz said the lawsuits are already increasing, and she believes this will have an effect on an industry she calls “cash driven.”

She says she has heard of cases being filed all around the country, from Texas to California to Missouri. As she puts it, “They are starting to come out of the woodwork.”

Andrew Walther is based in Los Angeles.