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Abortion-cancer link: Some groups shifting away from outright denial


WASHINGTON (BP)–The settlement of a legal case based on claims that abortion can heighten the risk of breast cancer could help a pro-life drive to win wider acknowledgement that such a link exists, thus contributing to a drop in the number of abortions, CNSNews.com reported Jan. 7.

Charles Francis, an attorney in the state of Victoria, Australia, with the pro-life organization Endeavour Forum, said Jan. 4 an abortionist had agreed to settle with his client, who sued the doctor for not warning her beforehand about the possible psychological damage of abortion or telling her about research findings linking abortion to breast cancer.

It is believed to be the first case of its kind in the world, Francis said.

The news emerged following a recent legislative session in the state of Tasmania, in which attorney Francis warned lawmakers who were debating abortion legislation about the risk of future litigation against doctors who provide abortions.

Francis has represented several women suing abortionists for not warning them of the possible psychiatric consequences of abortion.

Pro-abortion groups, along with some medical groups, typically have denied that having an abortion can increase a woman’s chances of contracting breast cancer. Warning women in advance, they argue, is unnecessary and will merely add to stress at what is already a difficult time.


But the U.S.-based Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer says 28 out of 37 studies published since 1957 have established a link and this fact should be made available to women considering an abortion.

A court in Fargo, N.D., will hear a case in March in which a woman is suing an abortion clinic for allegedly misleading women to believe there is no link between abortion and breast cancer.

Plaintiff Amy Jo Mattson says pamphlets distributed by the Red River Women’s Clinic quote the National Cancer Institute as saying there is no evidence of a direct relationship between breast cancer and abortion or miscarriage.

“None of [the claims of a link] are supported by medical research or established medical organizations,” the pamphlets reportedly stated.

Babette Francis, the national and overseas coordinator of the Endeavour Forum — an Australian affiliate of the coalition — said her group had been addressing the cancer-abortion link for the past two years.

Already it had witnessed some advances, said Francis, wife of Charles Francis. Whereas leading anti-cancer organizations once had denied any link existed, some were now “back-peddling,” preferring to say that research in the field is inconclusive.

“They’re shifting their ground — now they’re saying it cannot be supported or denied, or that no definitive statement can be made,” Babette Francis said.

A handout to clinicians by the Anti-Cancer Council of Australia reads: “Current epidemiological evidence does not allow any definitive statements on the association between breast cancer and spontaneous or induced abortion.”

An item on its website states: “It has been suggested that abortion causes an increased risk of breast cancer, however, studies to date have been inconclusive.”

And in a letter to a British medical body, a representative of the Queensland (Australia) Cancer Fund said its own view is “that we can neither support nor deny the linkage.”

Babette Francis said since breast cancer is a potentially fatal and always mutilating disease, Australian doctors’ failure to tell women that they had reached a conclusion of neither supporting nor denying a cancer-abortion link is simply “not good enough.”

In Britain, experts also seem unwilling to state unequivocally that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. In its guidelines on abortion, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states: “Available evidence on an association between induced abortion and breast cancer is inconclusive.”

Thomas Stuttaford, medical columnist for The Times, argued in 2000 that there was no causative link. Last May, however, he wrote another column changing his stance, saying: “Breast cancer is diagnosed in 33,000 women in the UK each year; of these an unusually high proportion had an abortion before eventually starting a family. Such women are up to four times more likely to develop breast cancer.”

But while some specialists appear to be moving away from outright denial, the American Cancer Society seems to have shifted in the opposite direction. A fact sheet produced by the society in 1996, quoted on the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer website, said abortion “may be associated with increased breast cancer risk.”

The American Cancer Society subsequently asked the coalition to remove the reference, stating its current view as: “There is no evidence of a direct relationship between breast cancer and spontaneous abortion [miscarriage] in most of the studies that have been published.”

Francis said it is her hope that publicity surrounding arguments about a link between abortion and breast cancer would help reduce the number of abortions in Australia — that women would “bypass the anti-cancer organizations and make their own choices.”

Joel Brind, president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute and an American authority on the abortion-breast cancer link, noted that a 1988 study on Australian women found that abortion was a greater risk factor for breast cancer than any other known factor, including a family history of breast cancer.

The main focus of the study was on dietary risk factors, and the finding regarding abortion was never made public at the time. Only seven years later, in a paper published in a British medical publication, did the unpublished material emerge, and it revealed a 160 percent increased risk of breast cancer among Australian women who had had induced abortion.

Activist groups such as the Endeavour Forum and the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer argue that such findings have been suppressed because the pro-abortion lobby does not want to accept that abortions are not as safe for women as they have maintained.

The landmark settlement on claims that abortion can heighten the risk of breast cancer was settled out of court, Charles Francis said by phone from the state of Victoria.

His client cannot be identified because of a confidentiality clause in the settlement, he said, but he believed it to be the first case of its kind anywhere. Another similar case is pending in the neighboring state of New South Wales, he added.

While preparing the cases, Francis said, “I had to go into all the evidence and the expert medical views for the purpose of presenting the case. It seemed to me, looking at it as a lawyer looking at evidence, the evidence was fairly strong — certainly strong enough, we thought, for [us to have] a good chance at winning.”

Francis said there was no indication one way or the other that the doctor had decided to settle because he was worried about the cancer link claim.

Still, the doctor had not insisted that the cancer link claim be dropped before agreeing to settle.

“My impression is there is a good deal of reluctance to see this litigated in public,” the attorney said. “Often you have conflicting medical views [in court cases]. Doctors are called, give differing evidence and then the court decides what it thinks it the most likely situation.”

Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, welcomed news of the Australian settlement.

“The abortion industry and its medical experts know that it will be far more challenging for them to lie to women about the abortion-breast cancer research when they are called upon to testify under oath,” she said in a statement.

“Scientists know that abortion causes breast cancer but are afraid to say so publicly in today’s hostile political climate.”

Brind, meanwhile, has said he believes there is a 30 percent overall increased risk of breast cancer after having an abortion, and an 80 percent increased risk for women with a family history of cancer.

Summarizing Brind’s argument, Francis explained that upon conception the level of estrogen in a woman’s body increases dramatically. This results in the development of undifferentiated cells in the breast, which pose an additional cancer risk.

Late in the pregnancy, these cells become milk-producing cells, cease posing a greater cancer risk and in fact provide added protection against cancer.

If a woman has an abortion before that stage — and the vast majority of abortions would occur before then — her body is left with a high number of undifferentiated cells which increase the risk of her contracting breast cancer, it is argued.

Francis said a woman who suffers a miscarriage well into a pregnancy — in a motor accident, for example — would face the same risk. However, in cases where a spontaneous, early miscarriage occurs, the woman would not have had the surge in estrogen in the first place, and therefore would not face the additional cancer risk.

Organizations voicing concern over increased anxiety facing women who are informed of an increased risk of breast cancer from abortion has been described by Brind and others as “paternalistic.”

“There is no other issue than abortion that would be so immune from the concept of informed consent,” Brind was quoted as saying in December.
Goodenough is the Pacific Rim bureau chief with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.