Two Ottawa women feel that the information is “too important to leave alone”

Two Ottawa women are doing their part to spread information linking induced abortion with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Karen Murawsky, public affairs officer with Campaign Life Coalition Ottawa, and partner Lyn Smith, are authors of the report, Women Need to Know. The report is a summary of studies dating back to 1970 which indicate a positive association between the increased rate of breast cancer in women who had terminated their first pregnancy by induced abortion.

While some have questioned the validity of the studies cited in the Women Need to Know report, others argue the research has been buried or even discredited because it undercuts the pro-choice argument that abortion has no long-term health risks.

Murawsky and Smith call for more research into the possible link between breast cancer and termination of a woman’s first pregnancy. They cite a number of statistics showing the rising incidence of breast cancer cases in North America, despite increased public awareness and improved diagnostic methods. Latest figures indicate one in nine Canadian women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

“If it is possible that there is any ‘positive association’ between the termination of a first pregnancy and the development of breast cancer, then in-depth, unbiased, objective and prospective research should be done,” the report states. “Women need to know about every aspect of breast cancer in order to make informed decisions about their health.”

Included in the report is discussion of the protective effects of a full-term pregnancy. Citing established medical research, the authors point out how a first full-term pregnancy results in hormonal changes which permanently alter the structure of the female breast. Because of these hormonal changes, the mature breast is better protected against the possibility of developing breast cancer.

First trimester abortion interrupts the maturing process of the female breast and prevents the natural protective mechanism of carrying the first pregnancy to term.

“We don’t want to be seen as scaremongering with this report,” Murawsky said. “We’re not saying that abortion causes breast cancer, only that there appears to be a link between termination of a first pregnancy and an increased risk of developing breast cancer.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kaegi, director of medical affairs for both the Canadian Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, said abortion-breast cancer studies are not yet definitive.

“There may be some biological merit in the arguments being put forward in this area,” Dr. Kaegi said. “We’re still in the process of reviewing and updating this kind of literature.”

Dr. Kaegi added that the national cancer organizations would have no hesitation making Canadian women aware of the possible risks if studies proved conclusive.

Women Need to Know originated in 1994 when Murawsky and Smith had it presented at the archdiocesan convention of the Ottawa Catholic Women’s League (CWL). A resolution, calling for federal assistance to study the abortion-breast cancer link, was not adopted at the national CWL convention in Thunder Bay. Nonetheless Murawsky and Smith did not want the information to fall into obscurity.

“Obviously this isn’t a full scientific study of the issue,” Murawsky said. “But we felt this information is too important to leave alone. We want to bring this study to the attention of Member of Parliament. It should be something they can’t turn their backs on, especially if we’re to look at all the factors of breast cancer prevention.”

In preparing their report, Murawsky and Smith were encouraged by news of a booklet produced by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. The booklet, Abortion, Making a Decision, is required reading for every woman seeking an abortion in that state. In its discussion of long-term medical risks of abortion, the book says that while some studies show no link between abortion and increased risk of breast cancer, others reveal a higher risk. “There seems to be a consensus that this issue needs further study,” the book says.

Meanwhile a recent article in the National Review by Dr. Joel Brind highlights the difficulties in reporting the abortion-breast cancer link in the mainstream media. Brind, a researcher of breast cancer at the City University of New York, is one of the authorities cited by Murawsky and Smith in their report. “One needn’t look very far to find the motivation behind the increasingly desperate attempts to prevent public access to the considerable body of evidence of a connection between induced abortion and breast cancer,” Brind wrote. “The reputation of abortion as safe for women is crucial to the ‘pro-choice’ movement.”

Campaign Life Coalition has agreed to take over printing and distribution of the Women Need to Know report.