National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Abortion and Breast Cancer

Conference puts spotlight on a link that others seem to ignore

BY John Severance

November 14-20, 1999 Issue | Posted 11/14/99 at 1:00 PM


CHICAGO—For many post-abortive women, the path to psychological recovery means waging a daily battle against irrepressible feelings of anger and regret.

Now, medical discoveries have added a new dimension to the struggles of post-abortive women: fear that abortion has dramatically increased their chances of contracting breast cancer, the leading cause of death for middle age women.

At an Oct. 28 legislative briefing organized by the Illinois Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, a medical expert and professor of endocrinology at City University of New York described the link between abortion and breast cancer. Dr. Joel Brind spoke to an audience that included Illinois lawmakers, women's health activists and local media.

Brind explained that when a woman becomes pregnant, her body produces a large quantity of estrogen, causing breast cells to grow. This intensive process of cell multiplication (know in medical terms as proliferation) lasts through approximately the 32nd week of pregnancy. When proliferation ceases, these cells then begin to differentiate and become milk-producing cells during the final eight weeks of pregnancy.

But when an induced abortion is performed, this process is cut short and the phase of differentiation does not occur. Herein lies the risk, Brind said.

Cancer is directly related to a sizable proliferation of cells which have not undergone differentiation. These cells are highly vulnerable to carcinogens and may give rise to cancerous tumors later in a woman's life, the doctor said.

The Evidence

In 1996 Brind co-authored a review and analysis of all existing studies of the connection between abortion and breast cancer. His findings were published in the British Medical Association's Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Brind found that out of 23 studies, 19 found an undeniable statistical link between abortion and breast cancer incidence. In the United States, 11 out of 12 studies confirmed the relationship.

After comparing the research, Brind calculated a 30% risk factor between abortion and breast cancer incidence. Recent evidence — including six of eight new studies — confirms Brind's findings, he said.

Brind cited one such finding published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Janet Daling and a team of researchers from the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Institute in Seattle discovered that women who have an abortion are 50% more likely to contract breast cancer than other women.

A Deafening Silence

According to Brind, the medical community has known of the link between abortion and breast cancer since a 1957 study on Japanese women. But the community has largely demonstrated what Brind claimed is a deadly cover-up — a “tremendous, relentless effort to squash any credibility of this.”

For example, Daling acknowledged in her article: “I would have loved to have found no association between breast cancer and abortion, but our research is rock-solid and out data is accurate.” Yet surprisingly few medical experts have championed a woman's right to know the breast cancer risks associated with abortion, Brind said.

Instead, he contended, abortion advocates commonly refer to certain studies which found no association between abortion and breast cancer as evidence that the overall research on the subject is inconclusive, and thus not binding. However, Brind stated that the particular studies cited in counter-arguments are based on fallacious methodology.

Some of these studies, for instance, grouped women who had undergone an induced abortion with women who had a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage). Spontaneous abortions usually occur in the first trimester before breast cell proliferation intensifies. Thus, the statistical averages calculated in these studies do not accurately record the link between induced abortion and breast cancer.

Brind next addressed the argument of “response bias” which claims that women who have breast cancer are more likely to disclose the fact that they have had an abortion than are women who do not have breast cancer, thus weighting the statistics in favor of the abortion-breast cancer link. But since the emergence of the “response bias” argument, Brind related, the original proponents have retracted their theory, even though many in the medical community still cling to its conclusions.

Brind also contested the accusation that research proving the link between abortion and breast cancer is tainted by pro-life politics. He was quick to point out that his co-author is “pro-choice” as are many of the researchers cited in his study. In fact, the editor in chief of the British journal, Dr. Stuart Dorman, took such criticism to task warning that the medical community has an obligation to inform women of the link between abortion and breast cancer.

Dorman wrote in an editorial: “I believe that if you take a view (as I do), which is often called ‘pro-choice,’ you need at the same time to have a view which might be called ‘pro-information’ without excessive paternalistic censorship (or interpretation) of the data.”

Brind and others said they believe that Stuart's comments hint at the real reason behind the silence: the desire to protect the political agenda that abortion enshrines. According to Brind, the medical community will disparage any evidence of the connection between abortion and breast cancer in order to protect “the sacred myth of safe abortion.”

But at what cost? Brind asked. “How many women must die over this before everyone knows that abortion kills women?”

A Woman's Right to Know

Following Brind's talk, Wisconsin attorney John Kindley took the podium and addressed the legal issue of “informed consent.”

Kindley declared that the current scientific evidence linking abortion to breast cancer, although subject to further testing, necessarily compels doctors and the medical community to inform women of the risk of breast cancer inherent in abortion. Kindley argued this claim based on fundamental rules of tort law and medical guidelines established in the Physician's Reference Manual.

Kindley stated that there is “no excuse” for withholding this information from women considering abortion. He added that post-abortive women “have a right to know so they can monitor themselves for early detection of breast cancer.”

Illinois state Sen. Patrick O'Malley, who spoke next, concurred with Kindley that doctors have a legal and ethical duty to inform women of the breast cancer risks associated with abortion — and that lawmakers likewise have a duty to inform women of this evidence in order to protect them from unnecessary health risks.

O'Malley called for the adoption for bipartisan resolution in the Illinois Senate to form a special task force to investigate the issue. He urged women to speak out and force lawmakers to begin addressing the issue.

‘Time Bomb’

As was evidenced by the gathering, many women have begun to raise their voices on the abortion-breast cancer link.

Elizabeth Verchio, executive director of an Illinois-based counseling organization for post-abortive women called Victims of Choice, now includes information on the link between abortion and breast cancer in her work with women.

Women are afraid and need to know the facts, Verchio stated. She said they look in the mirror and think, “every little lump — is this cancer?”

Recalling her own experience, Verchio told how doctors shut women off when they ask questions about the risks of abortion. And after these women are ushered out of the abortion clinic, they are left to face their anger — and now their fear — alone.

Another woman, Tommie Romano, expressed similar grief. “It's criminal that they're doing this to women,” she declared.

Romano had her own explanation of why the medical community is so afraid to admit the link between abortion and breast cancer:

“It's because this information will effect the 70% of women in the middle who might change their mind about abortion if they knew the risks. … This isn't religion or politics here — this is cancer.”

What most alarms Verchio and Romano is that many post-abortive are now reaching the middle-age threshold after which they are more vulnerable to breast cancer. And considering the number of abortions that have been performed since 1973 and continue today, they conclude that abortion-related breast cancer is a time bomb waiting to explode.

John Severance writes from Chicago.