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In the ongoing debate about abortion and the risk of breast cancer which was stirred up by Mr Osborne’s abortion Bill, Professor Ellwood of Canberra Hospital has retreated from his earlier blanket denial of any abortion breast cancer link. However, he now resorts to a claim based on "‘the latest study, involving millions of Danish women (as having) found no link at all." Despite serious errors which resulted in the underestimation of breast cancer risk—such as the misclassification of 60,000 women who had had legal abortions as not having had an abortion—the 1997 Danish study to which he refers did indeed provide evidence of a link. In fact, it found a significant trend of increasing breast cancer risk with increasing gestational age at abortion, abortions beyond 18 weeks gestation associated with an 89% increase in risk. In addition, the Danish study reported a 29% increase in breast cancer risk among women who’d had an abortion before their 20th birthday. That’s just about the same as the worldwide average 30% risk increase I and my colleagues reported in our 1996 review and meta-analysis.

Now it is true that epidemiologists—such as Dorothy Broom in Canberra— consider a 30% increase in risk "very small" in relative terms, but that is substantial for such a common illness as breast cancer. In any event, how can anyone justify not letting Australian women know about it, whatever its magnitude?

Most off the mark is the claim by Greens Assembly Member Kerrie Tucker, that Chief Minister Kate Carnell "could not claim to be pro-choice if she supported any part of the Osborne Bill". Not only are most of the researchers who have documented the abortion-breast cancer link pro-choice themselves, but the link is acknowledged by the premier international feminist group, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). The World Conference on Breast Cancer, initiated by WEDO last year, includes in its just published "Global Action Plan Report", "induced termination of pregnancies" as one of the "risk factors for increased estrogens and breast cancer."

Reasonable people on both sides of the abortion debate think women have a right to know about the abortion-breast cancer link. Hopefully, the ACT Assembly will, find a place to stand firm on this solid bit of common ground.




Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN