Since Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in 1975, many states with strong abortion opposition have implemented laws that make the procedure a bit more difficult to endure than in other states. For instance, in Mississippi, state law mandates that each woman getting an abortion has to be counseled on the risks of the procedure and alternatives to it, such as adoption, at least 24 hours prior to the procedure.
One "risk factor" causing debate among medical research professionals is the alleged link between breast cancer and abortion. A few states, including Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, require a warning about an abortion-breast cancer link in their consent materials—a warning that some say is just another way to deter women from getting abortions in these states.
The duty of an abortion provider to warn women of certain abortion risks is outlined in Sec. 41-44-33 of the Mississippi Code. It requires warning of: "[t]he particular medical risks associated with the particular abortion procedure to be employed including, when medically accurate, the risks of infection, hemorrhage and breast cancer, and the danger to subsequent pregnancies and infertility."
It's the "medically accurate" part that is at question.
Last week, Laura Meckler of the Associated Press reported that some states are routinely warning women of an abortion-breast cancer risk in writing—but not that there is no substantive evidence to support the claim of a direct connection.
In fact, most researchers have found no evidence that breast cancer and abortions are linked. The National Cancer Institute gathered 100 experts in February of last year to workshop and study pregnancies, abortions and breast cancer. The group concluded two important things about these subjects. First, they determined that there is an increase of the risk of breast cancer for women who wait until they're 30 or older to have their first child. Next, they found that neither spontaneous (miscarriage) or induced abortion is associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.
However, biochemist Joel Brind, president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., maintains that a link between breast cancer and abortion is apparent. "The younger a woman during her first pregnancy, the less likely she is to get breast cancer; therefore, if that pregnancy is terminated and she is more likely to postpone becoming pregnant again, the longer she waits, the more at risk she will be for breast cancer," said Brind, who is also on record as saying that abortion is against his personal Christian beliefs.
Note that his argument is consistent with the first of the National Cancer Institute's findings.
However, it does not establish a direct, causal link between abortion and breast cancer—which is implied by Mississippi state law.
In Mississippi, women seeking abortions must first sign an Informed Consent Form that lists breast cancer as one of the risks. Sec. 41-41-35 requires that the Mississippi State Department of Health "shall cause to be published in English" printed materials "that include the information described in ... Section 41-41-33"—in other words, including the risk of breast cancer.
The Department, however, does not claim the breast cancer warning. Kelly French, spokeswoman for the Mississippi State Department of Health, said that she was unaware that women seeking abortions here had to sign a consent form that mentioned breast cancer as a risk. "I had never heard that there was a cause-and-effect connection between these two things," she said.
MSDH Director of Licensure Vickey Maddox said: "In accordance with Mississippi Department of Health (MDH) regulations, MDH must provide educational materials to health care facilities licensed to perform abortions. The consent form (that discusses the cancer link) is the responsibility of the facility."
Clinic administrators contacted by the JFP were unavailable for comment.
In Louisiana, the Department of Health and Hospitals has published materials that mention breast cancer as a risk factor to abortion. However, their brochure, "Abortion: Making A Decision," states: "Several studies have found no overall increase in the risk of developing breast cancer after an induced abortion, while several studies do show an increased risk."
Bob Joannessen, spokesman for LDHH, said: "This brochure was printed in 1995. At the time this was the latest information. However, we have every confidence in the new NCI report and have every intention of changing our brochure to reflect the latest information."
Brind said this latest research only helps those who champion abortion rights. "There is a lot of denial about the risks of breast cancer and abortion because the scientists who hold the purse strings in medical research are the ones who are pro-abortion. Unfortunately, the industry is not about protecting women, but about protecting abortion," he said.
Still, Brind offered no conclusive evidence of an abortion-cancer link beyond the fact that a woman's risk of cancer increases the longer she waits to have children.