- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

Texas is poised to become the first state to mandate that doctors inform women seeking an abortion of a link between the procedure and an increased risk of breast cancer. A new abortion-counseling law is set to be signed later this month. Legislation sitting on the desk of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, passed in the House 95-41 and in the Senate 21-10, and is expected to be signed before June 22, according to a spokesman.

The “Women’s Right to Know Act” would force Texas 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 bill’s author, state Rep. Frank Corte Jr., said it took him eight years to get the legislation passed.

“Yes, it’s controversial,” he said. “The opposition said women don’t need to be told anything. [But] it’s disputed, and women need to know that and make their own decisions.”

Linda Rosenthal, staff lawyer for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, said the legislation would force doctors to lie.

“It’s scary politicians can misrepresent science,” Miss Rosenthal said.

The argument over whether there is a link between abortion and breast cancer continues in peer-reviewed journals and books.

The basic premise is that women’s breast cells are healthier after childbirth. Breast cells are more developed and compact from the milk-producing maturing process, and are therefore less susceptible to cancer-producing agents. That’s why some have called breast cancer “nun’s disease.”

When a women gets pregnant, her hormones surge. With an abortion, production of those hormones is artificially halted and the breast cells that were dividing sit in limbo.

Miss Rosenthal, who is working on a lawsuit on the topic, said studies find the cells are not at an increased risk.

But those who believe in the link say women who have an abortion have on average a 30 percent to 50 percent increased risk of getting breast cancer. Both sides tout numerous studies.

Even the National Cancer Institute goes back and forth on the issue. For a brief time, the institute changed its Web site’s fact sheet on the issue to say the studies to date found the results inconclusive.

An institute spokesman, Peggy Vaughn, said facts sheets are pulled regularly for review, revisions and updates; however, in this case, about 20 members of Congress had written to express concern about the agency’s stance.

The letter, based on testimony from a subcommittee hearing, played a role in the agency’s decision to reword its Web site, which caused a stir in the media and pro-choice community.

The NCI then pulled the revised version of its fact sheet and later held a three-day panel with a host of scientists to study the studies. It announced on March 3 that abortion “does not increase a women’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

In March, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson had to answer for the Web site episode to New York Democrat Rep. Nita M. Lowey, who grilled him on how the changes made it on the Web site in the first place.

“The scientific study was done and it showed that there was not a correlation between breast cancer and abortion,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s over and done with now, and we’ll never have to have that particular problem.”

Maybe not, but state legislatures do.

Joel Brind, a professor at Baruch College in New York and a prominent national researcher on breast cancer, said there are at least four states that tell women there may be a link between breast cancer and an increased risk of abortion, such as Mississippi.

However, Miss Rosenthal said that law applies only when the link is proven to be “medically accurate.”

Louisiana and Kansas require doctors to give women an abortion-counseling information pamphlet, Mr. Brind said, and inside that pamphlet the potential link is mentioned.

Mr. Brind, who called the NCI panel’s verdict “political,” has just founded the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. His 1996 meta-analysis of 23 studies on the abortion-breast cancer link found a 30 percent increased risk for women who have had at least one abortion. Published in a peer-reviewed journal in Britain, the study was widely criticized.

Mr. Brind’s findings are supported by the conservative Concerned Women for America, one of the largest women’s advocacy groups in the nation, with some 500,000 members.

“The National Cancer Institute has been taken over by politics, and scientists are now afraid to speak freely because they’ll lose their grants and funding,” said Wendy Wright, senior policy analyst.

Others see it differently. Miss Rosenthal said many of the studies which find a link are unreliable because they are funded by anti-abortion groups. She said there is no increased risk and bases her opinion on the cancer institute’s three-day panel, which reviewed 40 or more studies on the subject.

Miss Rosenthal is working on a case before the North Dakota Supreme Court. She represents a clinic being sued for “false advertising” because it does not inform women of the supposed link.

The lawsuit is one example of how “informed consent” and “reflection period” laws are playing into the link debate. More and more states are passing laws requiring women who seek abortions to read and sign documents telling them of the potential risks and possible alternatives.

The Texas law will mark the first time a state has outright required doctors to inform all women of the possible link between abortion and breast cancer.

The state now mandates, as part of a parental-notification law, that all minors be told of a possible link.

Mr. Corte said his bill just follows in the footsteps of what other states have done.

“We’re the 29th or 30th state to pass informed-consent laws, and I think the 19th state to pass a 24-hour reflection period law,” he said. “But I doubt the abortion provider gives women the information.”

Miss Wright said she is just happy the laws are being passed.

“It is in the realm of states’ authority to pass legislation like this,” she said. “I am happy to see state lawmakers putting women’s health and safety over politics.”

Mr. Brind seconds the notion. “I am very encouraged by the fact that in states like Texas, where the conservatives are taking over,” he said, “these laws are passing.”

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