Abortion and Women's Health: A Hidden Price

Medical Data Point to Higher Rates of Breast Cancer and Infertility

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 5, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The effects of abortion on women's health is a hotly debated subject. The topic came up for discussion earlier this year by a panel of 100 scientific experts, convened by the federal government's National Cancer Institute. Most of the participants opined that a woman who terminates her pregnancy does not face a higher risk of breast cancer, the Chicago Tribune reported Feb. 27.



The researchers contended that most of the early studies of the relationship between abortion and breast cancer suffered from an error known as recall bias. This means that many of the healthy women in the studies were likely to have lied about having had abortions, whereas those with breast cancer were somewhat more likely to reply honestly. The researchers did agree, however, that giving birth to a full-term baby at an early age lowers a woman's lifetime risk of getting breast cancer.

But the meeting by no means put an end to the debate. The Texas House and Senate recently passed a law mandating that doctors inform women seeking an abortion of a link between the procedure and an increased risk of breast cancer, the Washington Times reported June 5. The state's Women's Right to Know Act obliges abortion providers to inform women verbally or in writing of the potential breast cancer-abortion risk, in addition to all other possible problems associated with abortion and pregnancy. The act also requires a 24-hour waiting period after women seeking abortions are informed.

The naysaying by the experts convened by the National Cancer Institute has also come under criticism. In an article in the Summer 2003 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Karen Malec cites numerous studies that identify a link between abortion and breast cancer. Malec is president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.

She noted that in 1973, the year abortion was legalized in the United States, the incidence of breast cancer was 82.6 per 100,000, and it was considered a disease of elderly women. By 1998, the incidence of female breast cancer had increased more than 40% to 118.1 per 100,000 -- and had become a young woman's disease.

Malec accused many authorities and the media of not informing people of the higher risk of breast cancer because the question is controversial, or because they do not want to weaken the case for abortion. She noted that three years ago, a former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. George Lundberg, told an interviewer that abortion and tobacco are "sensitive issues" that had been on the AMA's "don't touch" list for many years.

More evidence on the abortion/breast cancer link comes from a 2002 book by the Canada-based deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research. "Women's Health After Abortion," by Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy and Ian Gentiles, is based on information contained in more than 500 books and scientific papers published over the last 20 years.

The book notes that of 14 studies carried out in the United States, 13 show an increased risk of breast cancer in women who had an abortion. Worldwide, 27 of 33 studies show a higher risk. A 1996 meta-analysis of already published studies, by Dr. Joel Brind and biostatistician Vern Chinchilli, pooled data from 28 reports. They found that there is a 30% increased risk for breast cancer after an abortion. While this study has come in for strong criticism, "Women's Health After Abortion" noted that with time it has been accepted. In 2000 a review of the study by Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concluded that it had no major methodological failings.

"A right to know"

Breast cancer is not the only medical problem associated with abortion. "Women's Health After Abortion" reports that abortion also is associated with ectopic pregnancy, uterine perforation, pelvic inflammatory disease, cancers of the reproductive system, and infertility. There are some "elements within the research and medical establishments for whom the paramount consideration appears to be to preserve the image of abortion as simple, safe and easily available to women," the book reports. It adds: "If there is a right to choose, there is also a right to know."

Abortion's impact on subsequent pregnancies is another problem. Injury to the cervix can lead to later spontaneous abortions, and damage to the uterus can create problems in the implantation of future pregnancies. Premature birth is also a result of abortion, as 20 studies conducted between 1973 and 1999 in seven countries testify. One or more induced abortions can lead to an increase of up to 30% in the possibility of a prematurity. The premature births occur not only because of the physical damage to the reproductive system, but also to the infections resulting from abortions.

Ectopic pregnancies, whose incidence has increased notably in recent years, have also been found to have a link with abortions. Five studies reviewed in the book find that there is anything from a twofold to a thirteenfold increase in the risk of an ectopic pregnancy following induced abortion. Increased rates of subsequent infertility and spontaneous abortion have also been detected among women who had abortions without previously giving birth, the book says.

The danger to health can even reach the point of causing death. The book notes that there are significant difficulties in obtaining reliable statistics on this subject due to inconsistencies in the registration of information. However, it cites data from Finland, which maintains a careful registry of births, deaths and abortion.

The maternal death rate after abortion is four times higher, at 100.5 per 100,000 women, for women who aborted than it was for women who gave birth. This contradicts the widely repeated claim that abortion is safer than childbirth. The Finnish data also show that women who have an induced abortion are more than three times likely to commit suicide within a year than women who gave birth.

Another book that gathers many references on the subject of abortion and health is Thomas Strahan's "Detrimental Effects of Abortion: An Annotated Bibliography with Commentary." The third edition, published in 2001 by Acorn Books in association with the Elliot Institute, contains more than 1,200 bibliographical entries in 140 categories.

Unspoken pain

Abortion's damage is not limited to physical effects. Psychological trauma can often affect women for many years following an abortion. One of the latest studies examining this question is by Theresa Burke, the founder of Rachel's Vineyard, a post-abortion healing ministry, with David Reardon, head of the Elliot Institute. In their book, "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion," they relate the traumas suffered by many women, and offer advice on how to overcome these problems.

Many women, notes the study, do not anticipate or understand the severity of the problems they may suffer. Abortion cannot simply "turn back the clock," restoring women to where they were before becoming pregnant, explain the authors. While it might bring a short-term sense of relief to a woman, an abortion sows the seeds for longer-term problems.

Abortion, explains the book, touches on three central issues of a woman's self-concept: her sexuality, her morality and her maternal identity. It also involves the loss of a child. "Few women sort through all of these issues before their abortions," the authors write. These unresolved issues will often surface later, they say.

A contributing factor to these problems is that most abortion clinic counselors promote the false expectation that there are few, if any, psychological risks to abortion. One reason for this, the authors contend, is the clinic's financial interest in selling abortions. The true price of the procedure, tragically, may not be evident until it's too late.