On May 5 the American Family Association of NY organized a forum in the public library on the topic entitled "Breast Cancer and Abortion: Is There a Link?
Has There Been a Cover-Up?" The only speaker was Dr. Joel Brind, a professor of endocrinology, and he presented his belief that there are very substantial data indicating that induced abortion increases (by about 30 percent) the incidence of breast cancer, and that this "fact" was being covered up by proponents of free choice in matters regarding abortion. Dr. Brind and colleagues recently published an extensive review of the subject and much of his presentation covered that review for a non-technical audience. Although the meeting was billed as a "forum" there was very little in the way of opposing ideas.
It therefore may not have been obvious that the conclusions of Dr. Brind rely on statistical methodologies that are highly technical, controversial, and subject to error, particularly when dealing with relatively weak effects. In his research review, Dr. Brind described the magnitude of the increased risk that he feels exists between abortion and cancer as "relatively low" (but made clear that in his opinion that it was an important effect).
In examples of other relatively low risk factors, it has often proven difficult to determine with any assurance that the studies are reporting genuine effects or instead are artifacts of statistical manipulation, design flaws and unsuspected factors that account for the results. After Dr. Brind's review, published in 1996, another (presumably more up-to-date) extensive review of the same subject appeared by Dr. Phyllis Wingo and colleagues. This review concluded that definitive conclusions about this issue are not currently possible, because of inconsistent findings across studies.
Also published since Dr. Brind's review is the most extensive study up to now, done in Denmark, and involving the analysis of one and a half million women. This study reported no overall relationship between induced abortion and breast cancer. Dr. Brind in his presentation and in print has criticized the design of this research on technical statistical grounds, but the paper passed reviews for one of our most prominent medical journals, and the authors of the study have published a spirited defense of their methodology. Clearly, established scientists cannot agree on whether or not a believable relation has been established between breast cancer and abortion.
As a non-medical doctor, but one who is trained in research methodology, my assessment is that the difference of opinion exists because the issues are muddy, much of the existing research is flawed, and indeed there is far from any proven connection. Dr. Brind and presumably the American Family Association appear to believe that the reason why there is no agreement is that there has been some type of conspiracy to suppress the facts, based on political or ethical beliefs. I do not find it plausible that numerous prominent scientists would jeopardize their careers for such political ends.
Similarly I do not find it plausible that the scientific conclusions of Dr. Brind are an outcome of his own beliefs, which appear to be strongly anti-free-choice. A woman contemplating abortion faces genuine agonizing ethical, moral and family problems. She should not be asked to add to her problems. Until the scientific community can find reasonable agreement that there is a genuine causal relationship between cancer and abortion, she should not be encouraged to add to her problems by thinking that abortion is likely to give her serious health problems in the future.