By Dave Andrusko
A friend just passed along “Texas state booklet misleads women on abortions and their risk of breast cancer,” which appeared in the Washington Post today. It is late in the day so I’m already pressed for time. Moreover while I know a lot about the “ABC” (the Abortion-Breast Cancer) connection, I am neither a doctor nor an expert.
But having written about the topic many dozens of times, there are some preliminary remarks I can make about Fact Checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee’s column.
[BTW. Based on her previous work on the abortion issue, I have no reason to doubt her good faith.]
She uses as a jumping off point a section on the Abortion-Breast Cancer link from “A Woman’s Right to Know Information Material” booklet by the Texas Department of Health Services, December 2016. Her conclusion is that the link merits “Three Pinocchios.”
Here are a few critiques I’ll offer while we wait for the expert on the ABC link–Dr. Joel Brind–to weigh in.
#1. The be-all, end-all rebuttal “proving” that there is no increased risk of breast cancer for women who’ve had an induced abortion is a 2003 workshop put on by the National Cancer Institute [NCI] which Ye Hee Lee references in her analysis.
However you’d think by her description of the minority report (Brind’s) that it only “claim[ed] partial disagreement with this conclusion”– that, in effect, Dr. Brind was just poking around the margins.
That could not be more incorrect. Commenting on a fact sheet carried on the NCI website since the spring of 2003 in which the NCI concludes that “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer,” Brind wrote
The trouble is, to accept this conclusion, one needs to dismiss almost half a century’s worth of data which do show a significant link between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer.
In other words, he fundamentally disagreed with the NCI line and the fact sheet that emerged from what Brind described as a “stacked” workshop.
#2. Ye Hee Lee writes as if there is nothing that has come out in the last decade + that would challenge the NCI’s position. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
We have carried any number of stories by Dr. Brind which document the link, especially the 15 studies coming out of South Asia [India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka] since 228. Brind wrote, “Every one of them reports increased breast cancer risk with abortion, with risk increases as high as almost 2,000 percent (20-fold)!”
Time for just one more…
#3. Again, without imputing bad faith (which I am not), Ye Hee Lee‘s is a tortuous reading of what the booklet says about the protective effect to a woman of completing a pregnancy. Without wading deep into the weeds, what everyone agrees to–that is, no one disagrees with–is that the risk of breast cancer is reduced when a woman completes a full-term pregnancy.
As Dr. Brind has written, the controversy is over the 100% defensible assertion that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases if she has abortion because it leaves her with more cancer-vulnerable breast tissue than she had before she became pregnant.
Later this week, or on Monday, Dr. Brind will offer a more in-depth refutation.
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