LOUISVILLE, Colo. — When Laura Lightsey moved to the United States from Argentina in 1989, she was shocked.

“I couldn't believe abortion is legal here,” said Lightsey. “In Argentina it's illegal. It's murder.”

Then came another shock. The Dallas-based Susan G. Komen Foundation, an organization she thought was dedicated to saving the lives of breast cancer patients such as herself, gives money to Planned Parenthood — the largest abortion money-maker in the United States.

Pro-lifers say that the foundation's link to Planned Parenthood is particularly disturbing, in light of the growing body of research suggesting abortion can cause breast cancer.

Lightsey, a woman in her thirties, was diagnosed last spring with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. She has known most of her adult life she was a likely breast cancer victim, because it runs in her family. And she has now become familiar with what she calls an “enormous” breast cancer support network in the United States, in which the Susan G. Komen Foundation plays a key role.

Komen, whose picture was on the wall of the oncology department where Lightsey was treated, was the sister of Nancy Goodman Brinker, who was appointed in May by President Bush as the U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen foundation after her sister died of breast cancer in 1980. The foundation has 70,000 volunteers with branches in 110 U.S. cities.

The foundation has raised more than $300 million in an effort to eradicate breast cancer through early detection, treatment and medical research.

Conflict of Interest?

But the Komen Foundation has come under fire from pro-life activists who don't understand how the organization can work so hard to save lives, and at the same time give substantial grants to Planned Parenthood. Recently, the foundation has given grants to Planned Parenthood chapters in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and Michigan.

“It's an absolute conflict of interest,” said Karen Malec, a volunteer with the Illinois-based Coalition on Abortion/ Breast Cancer. “They're dedicated to eradicating breast cancer, yet they give money to an organization that provides abortion — which is one of the known causes of breast cancer. Planned Parenthood markets itself as a servant of the poor, but it serves low-income women about as well as a tobacco company providing screenings for lung cancer to the poor.”

Lightsey said the grants to Planned Parenthood offend her, even though she had no knowledge of medical research that links abortion to breast cancer.

“It's completely offensive,” she said. “Here's an organization that raises money to save lives, yet they give some of that money to an organization that kills the unborn.”

Linda Frame, an advanced oncology nurse and senior clinical advisor for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, says grants are given to Planned Parenthood because the organization provides mammograms and other forms of breast cancer screening to women without health insurance.

But, said Lightsey, “There are many other organizations that provide those services, so they don't have to give money to an abortion provider.”

Frame admits that the Komen Foundation has no trouble finding other organizations, such as branches of the American Cancer Society, county hospitals and public health clinics, that provide free breast cancer screenings. But she sees no reason not to fund Planned Parenthood, because she doesn't believe that abortion leads to breast cancer.

“Our review of recent scientific literature indicates there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that abortion increases a woman's risk for developing breast cancer,” Frame said.

She cites four studies — one from Denmark, one from Iowa, one from the Netherlands, and a U.S. hospital-based study — that lead her to believe abortion does not lead to breast cancer.

Malec countered that Susan G. Komen Foundation officials are ignoring overwhelming evidence to the contrary, simply because they don't want to be in the politically difficult position of telling women that abortion may cause breast cancer. Malec said 27 out of 35 major studies have demonstrated an association between abortion and breast cancer.

Known Risks

Beyond debate, the pro-lifer adds, is the fact that scientists know that postponement of the first full-term pregnancy increases the risk of breast cancer. That means women who remain childless because of abortion automatically assume a higher risk.

“Dr. Brian McMahon of Harvard University published a landmark study in 1970 that has never been disproved or refuted,” said Malec. Dozens of subsequent studies, she continued, back up McMahon's findings.

McMahon's study found that women who postpone their first pregnancy experience a greater risk of breast cancer each year after the age of 18.

“When you have breast cancer, you're told over and over again that one of the three leading risk factors is waiting to have the first child until you're over 30,” said Malec. “Having no children at all is an even greater risk factor.”

Malec noted a passage from the book Breast Cancer, by Dr. Chris Kahlenborn, which states, “Several papers have noted that women who have had an abortion at a young age or had taken oral contraceptive pills early in life, developed a more aggressive type of cancer.”

“And that's what Planned Parenthood does,” said Malec. “They provide abortions, abortifacients and contraceptives mostly in order to delay or completely avoid that first full-term pregnancy. Medical scientists and most of the studies on this subject conclude that a delay in the first full-term pregnancy increases the risk of breast cancer.”

Frame concedes that dozens of studies show a link between abortion, or the delay of a first full-term pregnancy, and breast cancer. But she suspects the findings are flawed because of what she terms “reporting bias.”

Most of the studies, she explains, depend on women filling out forms and confessing to the question of whether they've had an abortion.

She says healthy women, who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, are more likely to lie or forget a past abortion when filling out surveys for studies.

“Someone diagnosed with cancer, who is fighting for her life, is going to fill out that questionnaire as truthfully as possible thinking her life may depend on it,” Frame said.

But Malec said she doubts the foundation would be so cavalier about a suspected cause of breast cancer if it involved a less politically sensitive subject than abortion.

Concluded Malec, “The Susan G. Komen Foundation needs to put aside its ideology in favor of women's health by discontinuing its funding of Planned Parenthood.”

Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.