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Texas Abortion Counseling Law Near Approval

Aired May 22, 2003 - 20:32   ET


DARYN KAGAN: Texas legislature is back at work this week. Everyone's back from Oklahoma.
Lawmakers are close to approving an abortion counseling law that is sure to be controversial. Among other things, it requires a 24- hour reflection period before a woman can get an abortion. It also requires doctors to warn women that an abortion might lead to breast cancer.

To discuss the woman's right to know act, we're joined tonight from Washington by Terry O'Neill. She is membership vice president of the National Organization for Women. And by Sandy Rios. She is the president of Concerned Women for America.

Ladies, good evening. Thanks for being with us.

Sandy, I want to go ahead and start with you. Why do you think it's good idea to warn women that getting an abortion could lead to breast cancer?

SANDY RIOS, PRESIDENT, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: Well, it's kind of common sense, Daryn. If I have a daughter that is 28, I would certainly want her to know if she got pregnant, she'd run the risk of breast cancer.

KAGAN: But where does the science come from? I'm looking at information from the National Cancer Institute that says there basically is no link. The possibility of increased risk of breast cancer following an induced abortion.

Well, Daryn, they had a conclave in February in which they made that declaration. Before that, trust me, the science is showing there is a link between breast cancer and abortion.

And I am pro-life. I don't hide that at all. But when I first heard this years ago, I was skeptical. But the things that I have read and the studies I have looked at show that, to me, it's common sense that it causes cancer.

To make it simple, in layman's terms -- when you get pregnant, your estrogen level goes up exponentially. When you deliver a child, those estrogen parts -- and this is all layman's terms -- transfer into breast milk. So that's what causes the estrogen level to lower, and you give a natural birth and you're fine.

When your pregnancy is cut off artificially, they are speculating that the high level of estrogen does not transfuse, so it's an artificial cutoff and a woman is left with a high level of estrogen in her body -- which is, therefore, they think, the cause of the rise in cancer. Which is as much as 30 to 50 percent higher -- according to the studies that have been done.

KAGAN: We're fortunate. We have Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the house. We'll get to the science part in just a minute.

We'll keep it to the political debate right now. And Terry, bring you in. If, in fact, it is true that there is a link between breast cancer and abortion, what's wrong with getting good information?

TERRY O'NEILL, MEMBERSHIP , NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: Ideology is not science. It is not true that there's a link between abortion and breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute just this past February held an entire workshop on the issue. They examined all of the studies that have been done. They determined the studies show that there is no link.

The National Institutes of Health is currently headed by an individual who was appointed by George W. Bush -- the most aggressively anti-choice president we've had in decades. This is not -- the National Cancer Institute's conclusion that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer is obviously not ideology. It's science.

All of the junk science or fake science that has been put forth to show some kind of link has all been ideologically driven. Ideology is not science. The Texas legislature has no business passing a law that requires doctors to lie to their patients and suggest there is such a link.

RIOS: Daryn, let me say that's the pot calling the kettle black. I have to tell you I know a lot about that conference that took place in February. In fact, the leading researcher, Joel Brind (ph), who has found this link and is the champion of this issue, wasn't even invited. We had to lobby to get him there.

And what happened at that meeting in February is they said they were going to present new studies. They would not even release the findings. They had someone declare there is no link.

Let me tell you that the National Cancer Institute commissioned a study in 1996 by Janet Dawling (ph), who is strongly pro-choice. She is on the committee that approved the French abortion pill not that long ago. But she had three sisters who died of breast cancer. And Janet Dawling wanted to know what the truth was. Her study in 1996 showed there was a 50 percent increase in the incidence of breast cancer among women that had had abortions. And further, she took a smaller set of young women who had gotten pregnant when they were young, they had cancer running in their families, and it was the first-time pregnancy. Combined with that, in that very small study of 14, all 14 had breast cancer by the time they were 45. That's the National Cancer Institute.

KAGAN: Sandy, let me just jump in here for a second. You're quoting the National Cancer Institute, and I believe we put up a graphic by the National Cancer Institute saying there is no link.

They've changed the history a bit. I challenge you, Daryn. If you look -- I have no reason to lie about this. If you check the studies, you'll see that Janet Dawling's study says what it says. In fact, her quote on that is that she would not tolerate dishonesty. She wanted to know what the truth was. This is the woman who's pro- choice.

The National Cancer Institute looked at those studies. One of the criticisms was they were so small. A study in which you only look at 14 women is not large enough to draw real scientific conclusions.

RIOS: Terry, statistically, there's a 95% chance that that study was accurate. The chances of 14 women catching breast cancer under those circumstances ...

O'NEILL: Sandy, you know the National Cancer Institute said that those studies were disproven, and in fact the scientific ...

RIOS: No, Terry, they didn't say that.

O'NEILL: Yes, they did. I read the report.

KAGAN: Let me just jump in for a moment, ladies, before this gets a little out of control. Sandy, tell me exactly where the bill is and where it stands.

RIOS: In Texas? Well, I'm not an expert on that, Daryn. I just know that it's passed. They expect the governor to sign it. I think it's passed through both Houses. I think it was supposed to go through today. And the governor said he's going to sign it.

It's just common sense. If there's any chance at all that our girls, our children, our future generations, will get breast cancer from abortion, they have a right to know. I don't know why people like Terry are so concerned about warning them.

O'NEILL: Women have a right to be told the truth. They have a right to be told the truth, and the truth is there isn't a link, and women have a right, and doctors have a sacred obligation to tell the truth to their patients about their patients' ...

RIOS: If you're willing to take that risk with my children, fine. I'm not willing to take it with my children.

O'NEILL: My daughter is 12 years old, and I refuse to let her grow up in a world dominated by ideologically driven non-science. I want doctors to know really what's going on, and that's what we're working for at NOW. That's why we're not going to allow this kind of nonsense to be put out, that somehow ... The Texas legislature are not doctors. They don't have the right to do it.

KAGAN: Ladies, hold on. I'm going to say, to wrap it up on a positive note, I think one thing we can agree on is we're all in favor of raising healthy and intelligence daughters.

How you do that in your own home is your choice. Leave it on that.

Sandy Rios, Terry O'Neill, thank you very much. Putting politics aside for a moment, I know you at home you're thinking, "What is the link here -- abortion and breast cancer?"

That's why we have our own doctor on staff, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Those two intelligent women believe completely different things. Where does this link even come from in the first place -- breast cancer and abortion?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting debate. It's been studied quite a bit, and that's part of the confusion. There's been so many studies since the 1950s.

Here's where it comes from. It's long been believed that when a woman becomes pregnant, there's a hormonal change in the body at that point. Now, if the pregnancy ends, either spontaneously or because of an abortion, that hormonal matrix in the body changes.

People got concerned about that. They said, "What does a sudden change in the hormonal matrix do to the body?"

If a woman carries out her pregnancy, the hormones go down more naturally. With an abortion or miscarriage, that changes.

They said, "If it changes so dramatically, could that, in fact, induce cancers?"

This is what started to spurn a lot of these studies really now for over 50 years.

KAGAN: And what do we know?

GUPTA: It's interesting. There have been a lot of studies that have looked at it.. The one that they're quoting of 14 patients actually did show some of the things they were talking about in terms of abortions actually increasing the risk of breast cancer.

But here you can look at some of the flaws of most of those ... Right. The small number of women. The data was collected after the breast cancer diagnosis.

The comment was made that all those women had breast cancer. Yes, that's the women they were looking at -- the women that had breast cancer and finding out if any of them had either miscarriages or abortions in the pack.

These were self-reported. And self-reported, it's important to point out, because it's not always -- people may sort of miscontrue a little bit what was that actually means.

The largest study, though -- there was a larger study. 1.5 million women from Denmark, 1935 to 1978 -- these women were born. After reviewing that data along with other studies, this is what the National Cancer Institute had to say finally after putting this all together at the conference you referred to in February 2003 -- "Having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer."

You can see that that's the conclusion. It's a conclusion after looking at lots of different studies -- including this large one of 1.5 million women.

KAGAN: Very good. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks for helping us sort through the politics and get to some of the science. Appreciate it.


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