Far-right Groups Botch Science on Abortion & Breast Cancer


A study from Oxford researchers was released this week that once again concluded that there is no data to support the claim from radical anti-choice activists that abortion (induced or spontaneous) causes breast cancer. This research only further bolsters the arguments from the American Cancer Institute (a federally-funded branch of NIH), the Mayo Clinic, a US Congressional report and others that say there is conclusive evidence that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. But for some reason, the far-right Canadian website, LifeSite, was quick to write that this new research is flawed, and to reaffirm their claim that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer. What on earth is going on here? How can they keep making these claims? Some people are inclined to think that it’s just because they’re so ideologically constrained that they can’t see the science sitting right in front of them. But if you read their article, you get an even more comical picture: they have absolutely no ability to logically evaluate the science, and (why is this typical of the far-right?) they will continue on message regardless of the research and regardless of how ridiculous they look.

So what did they say that’s really so illogical? I’ll let them explain the basis of the debate first:

Two breast cancer risks are associated with abortion – the loss of the protective effect of a full term pregnancy (the universally recognized risk) and the independent link (the debated risk). The study, Reeves et al., concerns only the second risk. The independent link addresses this question: Does the woman who has an abortion have a higher breast cancer risk than she would have had if she hadn't had that pregnancy?

By contrast, the first risk (omitted by Reeves et al.) has to do with this question: Does the woman who has an abortion have a greater risk than does the woman who has a full term pregnancy? Experts universally agree that the post-abortive woman does have a higher risk than does the woman who has a baby.

Professor Joel Brind, president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, maintains that the methodology (of the most recent Oxford research) is "seriously flawed in the direction of covering up the (first) link."

Ok. Verbal acrobatics there, I know. What they’re saying is this: there is a universally recognized protective effect against breast cancer from carrying a pregnancy to full term. A protective effect. That means that for a woman who has never been pregnant or for a woman who has an abortion, that they are both at greater risk for breast cancer than a mother who has carried a pregnancy to term. But that is because of her full-term pregnancy, not because of their lack of one.

What it also means, and what this recent research confirmed again, is that there is absolutely no causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer. This recent research reaffirmed that the risk of developing breast cancer is exactly the same between women who never become pregnant and women who have abortions.

To put it another way, the only thing at stake here is lost “opportunity costs,” to use economists’ term. A woman who carries a pregnancy to term enjoys a protective benefit against developing breast cancer, and a woman who has an abortion, be it a miscarriage or an induced abortion, does not enjoy the opportunity of that benefit. But there is absolutely no research to suggest that having an abortion in any way causes breast cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer does not increase from having an abortion, it decreases from having a baby.

That these radical activists are still trying to tow their old line reveals the utter lack of faithfulness to medicine and to the scientific method that undermines this and so many of their other claims. Ideology comes first for them. Period. And they will apparently say anything at all to make it look like their ideological position is supported, even to the point of essentially lying to their readers (as they do in the quote above) by calling a lost benefit a “risk.”

This kind of bad science is being spread too often by these groups, and in ways that is seriously damaging public debate. That damage that is being done not because bad research offers a contradictory point of view, but because it twists the facts received by the public and leaves them without a solid ground for their beliefs. It’s ridiculous, yes. But it borders on being malicious too, considering that it’s coming from medical professionals who have (likely, though nothing’s certain here) been trained better and are aware of the errors they’re making.

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