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Abortion - Breast Cancer link?

Verbal and legal attacks by pro-life groups

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As explained in a companion essay, pro-lifers and pro-choicers promote different beliefs about Abortion-Breast Cancer (ABC) links:
bullet Most pro-life groups assert that an ABC link exists; i.e. that if a woman has an abortion, her chance of contracting breast cancer later in life increases increases. 1
bullet Most pro-choice groups state that an ABC link either does not exist, or is unproven. 2

Some pro-life organizations have attacked other groups for spreading what they feel is misinformation about an abortion-breast cancer link.

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Year 2000: North Dakota & California failed lawsuits:

According to Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian group, the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo ND was sued by two lawyers for false advertising. 3 The suit was brought in 2000-JAN by Amy Jo Mattson -- a pro-life sidewalk counselor, -- a crisis pregnancy center, a local physician, and the Fargo Roman Catholic Diocese. Another media source named Amy Jo Kjolsrud as the sidewalk counselor who filed the lawsuit. 4 The clinic allegedly distributed a brochure which quoted a National Cancer Institute fact sheet. It stated:

"Anti-abortion activists claim that having an abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer and endangers future childbearing.  None of these claims are supported by medical research or established medical organizations."  (Emphasis in the original).

Rachelle Sauvageau, coordinator of the Pro-Life Office of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo, commented:

"This suit is necessary to allow women to protect their own health and well-being.  Our concern for women compels us to defend them against the false claims that abortion is not harmful to a woman's health, be it emotional, physical or spiritual." 5

Another plaintiff, Bruce Madlom, said

"The substantial medical research in peer-reviewed medical journals supports the claim that having an abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer."

Focus on the Family quoted researcher Dr. Brind, who said:

"We know that you get an explosive growth in the cells of the breast which continues for all but about the last eight weeks of a normal pregnancy. It's only in the last eight weeks that other hormones take over and turn the now much larger breasts, with many more cells in them, into organs that actually produce milk. And if the process is cut off, then a woman is left with far more of these cells that are capable of growing, leaving a statistically higher probability that some may grow into cancer cells."

If this theory is correct, then one would expect that women who have had a pregnancy terminated by an involuntary miscarriage -- commonly called a miscarriage -- would have an increased chance of developing breast cancer. They do not.

The Clinic stopped using the brochure after the lawsuit was filed. They replaced it with a pamphlet which stated:

"Some anti-abortion activists claim that having an abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer. A substantial body of medical research indicates that there is no established link between abortion and breast cancer. In fact, the National Cancer Institute has stated, '[t]here is no evidence of a direct relationship between breast cancer and either induced or spontaneous abortion'." 10

The case was scheduled to be heard on 2001-SEP-11. But the terrorist attack on New York and Washington delayed the trial. It was re-scheduled to start on 2002-MAR-25.

After four days of testimony, Judge Michael McGuire ruled in favor of the clinic. According to The Forum:

"Based on expert testimony from epidemiologists and endocrinologists, McGuire decided the Fargo clinic did not mislead its patients through material contained in its brochures."

Judge McGuire ruled:

"It does appear that the clinic had the intent to put out correct information and that their information is not untrue or misleading in any way. They did exercise reasonable care...One thing is clear from the experts, and that is that there are inconsistencies. The issue seems to be in a state of flux."

Defense attorney Linda Rosenthal, from the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law, said:

"The judge rejected the abortion-breast cancer scare tactic. This ruling should put to rest the unethical, anti-choice scare tactic of using pseudo-science to harass abortion clinics and scare women."

Jane Bovard, administrator at the Red River Women’s Clinic said: "This was just one more way of harassing us. I feel very vindicated."

Lawyer John Kindley represented Kjolstrud at the Fargo ND trial. He appealed the case to the North Dakota Supreme Court. The appeal was rejected. 10

Kindley earlier filed a similar lawsuit against Planned Parenthood of San Diego, CA. The judge dismissed the case prior to trial earlier in 2002-March.

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2002: Attack on ABC News:

The Coalition on Abortion and Breast Cancer criticized a TV news network for broadcasting several reports which have dealt with the alleged abortion - breast cancer (ABC) link. Ironically, it is the ABC network. 6 According to the Fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family, the Coalition has cited three "ABC reports that appear to ignore dozens of studies showing a connection between having an abortion and getting breast cancer." 7 President of the coalition, Karen Malec, is quoted as saying:

"I know they have a moral obligation and a social responsibility to the public to openly discuss this issue. And ABC has ...[ignored the research] three times on three different occasions....Women need to let them know that they're offended by the fact that they have not told the truth. Women really need to become activists not only for themselves but for other women." 7

Scott Hogenson, spokesperson for the Cybercast News Service, commented:

"It's impossible to look inside the head of the reporter and the editor, but given the nature of this issue and the fact that it has grown so large, so rapidly, I think it really suggests sloth or bias." 7

The Coalition has issued numerous press releases criticizing media and health groups for telling half truths and engaging in cover-ups. Titles include:

bullet "Breast Cancer Activists Skewer ABC News: Accuse ABC and New York Presbyterian Medical Center Professor of Telling Half Truths About Risk Factors."
bullet "Self Magazine Enters Disinformation Campaign"
bullet "National Cancer Institute Shamelessly Carries on Cover-Up."
bullet "Chicago Parent, Y-Me and Northwestern University Physician Misinform Women About The Abortion-Breast Cancer Research."
bullet "Women's Group Accuses Redbook of Misrepresenting Breast Cancer Research." 8

An alternative explanation is that media and health groups are not lying or engaging in cover-ups. They might simply be rejecting case control studies because of their inherent bias, and following historical cohort studies which are less biased. As mentioned in an associated essay, no historical cohort study has shown a statistically significant increase in risk of breast cancer among women who have chosen to have an early abortion. One study may have shown a link with very late term abortions, but the results were not statistically significant.

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2004: Attack on the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA):

The Minnesota Public Health Department published a handbook on abortion in 2003. It said, in part:

"Findings from some studies suggest there is an increased risk of breast cancer among women who had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggest there is no increased risk."

The Minnesota Medical Association told Minnesota's Governor Tim Pawlenty that the consensus among the medical community is that no link exists between abortion and breast cancer.

Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, said:

"The MMA lied to Governor Pawlenty. Truth is, five medical groups say abortion is a cause of breast cancer. A sixth group has called for 'full disclosure' of a 'highly plausible' relationship' -- an act which is an anathema to the AMA."

Criticizing the MMA, she said:

"Stop worrying about medical malpractice insurance premiums and the loss of abortion income. Try putting people’s lives ahead of your own financial interests.....I have two challenges for the MMA. First, disprove the biological explanation for the ABC link. No scientist has been able to do so. Neither will you. Second, identify one risk factor for breast cancer, which has more evidence amassed against it than does abortion." 6,9

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Abortion and the increased risk of breast cancer," at:
  2. "Naral Factsheets: Abortion, Breast Cancer and the Misuse of Science," at:
  3. Lara McGovern, "N.D. Abortion clinic sued," at:
  4. Mary Jo Almquist, "Judge rules for clinic," The Forum, 2002-MAR-29, at:
  5. "False advertising alleged in lawsuit against Fargo abortion clinic," Pathlights, at:
  6. The Coalition on Abortion and Breast Cancer has a web site at:
  7. David Brody, "Group Challenges ABC Over Abortion-Breast Cancer Link," Family News in Focus, 2002-AUG-15, at:
  8. The Coalition on Abortion and Breast Cancer's press releases are at:
  9. "Women's group condemns docs for hiding abortion/breast cancer risks," The Illinois Leader, 2003-JAN-6, at:
  10. "North Dakota Supreme Court Opinions 2003 ND 144," at:

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Copyright 1998 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAY-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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