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Choice's Deadly Consequence

March 14 2002

On January 11, 1964, Surgeon General Luther Terry released a report. Aware that his findings would send shock waves through the country, Dr. Terry chose a Saturday to shield Wall Street from the impact. At 7:30 AM, two copies, discretely wrapped in brown paper, arrived at the West Wing. At 9:00 AM, select reporters were herded into a secure auditorium without access to telephones. For 90 minutes they examined the report and questioned the Surgeon General's committee. Then the doors were opened, and the news was released: "Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action."

Congress moved swiftly to gave the findings force of law, passing the Federal Cigarette Labeling Act requiring the Surgeon General's warning on all cigarette packages. Since then, we've scrubbed all tobacco advertising from television and radio, banned smoking on domestic flights, classified cigarette smoke a carcinogen, and banned sales to minors -- actions were taken because of a correlation between cancer and a previously unrecognized risk factor.

A similar relationship exists today. Its ramifications are even more explosive than the carefully managed findings of Dr. Terry's committee, and the connection is no less clear. Yet this link goes unreported.

In December, British scientists at the Populations and Pensions Research Institute found that women who have abortions are up to twice as likely to suffer from breast cancer, and reported that "up to 50% of breast cancer cases in England and Wales over the next 26 years will be attributable to abortion." Their work affirmed the findings of other researchers who found that women who have abortions before age 18 raise their breast cancer risk by 150%, and those with a family history of breast cancer increase their susceptibility by 150% by having an abortion.

This isn't news. In 1986, four famed epidemiologists, including representatives from the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control, published a letter stating, "Induced abortion before first term pregnancy increases the risk of breast cancer." The Coalition on Abortion/ Breast Cancer reports that, "Twenty-eight out of 37 worldwide studies published since 1957 have shown a positive association between abortion and breast cancer. Seventeen studies are statistically significant, 16 of which found increased risk."

Breast cancer is the greatest cancer killer among American women aged 20 and 59. Nearly 184,000 will be diagnosed this year; 46,000 will die. But only four states require warnings about the abortion link, for just as Big Tobacco had a vested interest in suppressing information about the risks of smoking, so now the billion dollar abortion industry has a stake in enforcing silence.

Were the issue one of pure science -- simple cause and effect -- we would have long since acted as we did when the hazards of smoking became clear. Experts would have testified, laws would have been passed, federal agencies would have been mobilized. Research shows that a single induced abortion is comparable to the risk of lung cancer from long-term heavy smoking, but because this touches an ideologically charged issue, the connection is ignored.

No committees are convened. No reports are issued. No new policies are introduced. All the while, 4,000 American women unwittingly put themselves at risk every day.

Congress, ever-eager to burnish its pink ribbon credentials, should welcome an opportunity to demonstrate concern for women's health. Abortion advocates could scarce protest since "choice," by definition, requires complete information. As for the pro-life community, some would disavow dissuasive tactics focused on anything but the sanctity of unborn life. But few could argue with a strategy that saves lives.

Somewhere in the $1.2 trillion federal budget, between monogrammed highways and peanut subsidies, there's space for a study and a Surgeon General's report. If the findings of scientists around the world prove spurious, if there is no causal connection at all, then we have taken a reasonable public health precaution. But if the conclusions of 28 international studies prove correct, then just as Dr. Terry's warning has saved millions since 1964, so too will public honesty save lives imperiled since 1973.

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