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Mass. Mulls Abortion-Breast Cancer Warning

Pro-choice advocates say there's no proven link

MONDAY, May 7 (HealthScout) -- If you ask for an abortion in Massachusetts, your doctor may have to tell you in writing that you're risking breast cancer if you have the procedure -- at least, this is what state lawmakers are considering in committee today.

The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Colleen Garry, a Democrat from Middlesex County who opposes abortion. Abortion rights advocates say her proposal exploits the specter of breast cancer to discourage women from seeking the procedure even though scientific evidence doesn't support the connection, they say.

"It has long been a tactic of abortion opponents to portray legal abortion as unsafe," says William Lutz, a spokesman for National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. The Massachusetts bill and related legislation in other states is merely one facet of that approach, Lutz says.

At last count, 18 states were considering 32 such bills, says the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In addition to the statute being debated today, Massachusetts has another one pending that would require the Department of Public Health to post information about fetal development on its Web site and advise women about alternatives to abortion.

Sarah Magazine, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift, a pro-choice Republican, says her office wouldn't comment on the legislation until the bills were more concrete. "We have to wait for the specifics," Magazine says. The governor is the mother of one child and is expecting twins.

Mississippi and Montana have each passed laws requiring health care providers to disclose the possible medical risks of abortion, including breast cancer, but the 1995 Montana statute was found to violate that state's constitution and the court ruled that the law will not be enforced, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many studies have explored the connection between abortion and breast cancer, and some have found hints of a link. But a bird's-eye view of the research fails to find any convincing evidence that women who have abortions are more likely to develop breast tumors, experts say.

Yet people on the other side of the issue remain adamant. Joel Brind, a hormone expert at Baruch College in New York City, has looked at the effects of abortion on breast cancer and calls the connection "overwhelming."

"What is extraordinary is the amount of politics," says Brind, who is personally opposed to abortion but says he collaborates with pro-choice scientists.

However, a number of health groups, including the American Cancer Society, the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute, agree that abortions don't appear to increase the risk of breast cancer.

What To Do

If you want more information on abortion, talk to your doctor.

For more on the supposed link between abortion and breast cancer, visit the World Health Organization or the American Cancer Society.

Or, you can take a look at these previous HealthScout stories on abortion.

SOURCES: Interviews with William Lutz, spokesman, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Washington, D.C.; Sarah Magazine, spokeswoman, Gov. Jane Swift, Massachusetts; and Joel Brind, Ph.D., professor of biology and endocrinology, Baruch College of the City University of New York; National Conference of State Legislatures, Denver, Colo.; Planned Parenthood Federation of America
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