Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Shifted Burden of Proof

Finally, a well-designed study debunking the beloved anti-choice mythology that has attempted to link abortion with breast cancer. The previous studies that anti-choicers used weren't very good or very recent, but for some reason their fear-mongering was allowed to stand. And then we had to wait for science to prove, you know, that abortion doesn't cause breast cancer. It's what logicians like to call a shifted burden of proof. Thank God we've now shifted it back to its rightful place.

From the NYT (April 24th):

There is no association between abortion and an increased risk for breast cancer, scientists reported yesterday in a large study...

The possibility of such a link has been suggested by some retrospective studies — that is, studies that looked for a history of abortion in women who had already been given a diagnosis of breast cancer.

But such studies are subject to error caused by inaccurate reporting. Because of personal sensitivities and the stigma associated with the operation, healthy women may be reluctant to reveal that they have had an abortion, while those with breast cancer, seeking a cause for their illness, are more likely to report one.

This study, published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, tracked women prospectively to see if those who reported having abortions were more likely to develop breast cancer in the future. They were not.

“There are still some states that require women to be informed about the risk of breast cancer if they get an abortion,” said Karin Michels, the lead author and an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard. “I think that may not be justified based on the current evidence.”

Change the "may" to "is" and I think we've got better policy. Cancer is scary. If we're going to be scared, let's at least be scared of the right things. If anti-choicers care about women's risk of breast cancer, they should slap those warning labels on red meat at the supermarket, not on abortions/miscarriages.

The scientists found no difference in breast cancer incidence between the women who had had spontaneous or induced abortions and those who had not. Breast cancer incidence did not differ among women who had had an induced or spontaneous abortion before or after their first birth, or who had had no abortion at all.

At the same time, the authors write, it is well established that a full-term pregnancy before age 35 does reduce the long-term risk for breast cancer. So it might be said that a pregnant woman who aborts increases her risk for breast cancer compared with what it would be if she carried the pregnancy to full term.

The article goes on to get Joel Brind's opinion on this study. At first I was like, huh, so this professor still seems really invested in finding a link between abortion and breast cancer. I wonder if there's something wrong with this study, despite the fact that other scientists go on to debunk much of Brind's criticism? And then I Googled the guy. Apparently he's an anti-choice, born again "Christian," who's mentioned on the infamous site "abortionbreastcancer" dot com. Oh yeah, no vested interests there. I'm sure he's commenting strictly as an unbiased scientist, right? Take note, NYT: this is not journalistic integrity in the name of "neutrality": it's blatant political agendas tampering with science. Don't give them a platform.

And for the rest of us who actually *do* care about women and the risk of breast cancer: wouldn't it be amazing if we could muster up this level of outrage over big business polluting the environment with carcinogenic chemicals? That actually *do* cause breast cancer?

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