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Abstinence Causes Breast Cancer!

mspencers Icon Posted by Miranda Spencer

April 15th, 2009

When I published “Overlooking Evidence: Major Media Ignore Environmental Connections to Breast Cancer,” in Extra! this past February, I expected that if anyone came after me, it would be the chemical manufacturers, or perhaps the mainstream breast cancer-awareness groups. But much to my surprise, I’m the target of anti-abortion crusaders - at least, prominent blogger Jill Stanek.

How she contorts an investigative piece on the role of environmental factors in heightening breast cancer risk into an apologia for abortion offers a stunning example both of the effects of tunnel vision on an issue and propaganda techniques in action.

I thought it would be useful to deconstruct Stanek’s post (published 3/12/09 - my birthday!) to show just how far afield political rhetoric can go, and while I’m at it, clarify a few points in my article.

Let’s dissect Stanek’s post, titled “Feminists dare to complain about breast cancer reporting bias?,” paragraph by paragraph:

Pro-abortion feminist journalist Miranda Spencer wrote a 2,600 word article for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting in February complaining that MSM [mainstream media] does not spotlight factors contributing to the “epidemic” of breast cancer enough.

Pro-abortion feminist: Let’s flay the messenger who brings bad news! Needless to say, I’m not pro-abortion, I’m pro-choice; I support the right to have an abortion. But that’s my private opinion. I wrote this article, like all I write, from the standpoint of a reporter, plain and simple. To the extent it advocates, my piece asks for more research and reporting on the effects of synthetic chemicals on women’s health.

Complaining: Make that “documenting,” with quantitative and qualitative evidence.

“Epidemic“: Stanek puts the word in quotes seemingly to demean its accuracy. The documented lifetime risk of breast cancer for women is 1 in 8; for most people that qualifies, colloquially speaking, as epidemic.

Spencer, who supports giving US taxpayer money to international abortion groups as well as the United Nations Population Fund, which helps the Chinese government coerce women to abort, had a lot of nerve, particularly by naming her piece, “Overlooking evidence.”

Here Stanek links to an open letter from American feminists published in Mother Jones magazine online, which I signed (as a private citizen) in early 2008. Among other things, the letter supports reinstated funding for the UN Population Fund. She is implying there has to be a pro-abortion bias in my work - when nothing in the FAIR piece mentions abortion at all, pro or con.

“International abortion groups” is inaccurate - international family planning groups, which provide a spectrum of health services to women, including information about abortion, is more like it.

The UN Population Fund simply does not “help the Chinese government coerce women to abort.” That is another widely circulated myth for which there is no evidence, a State Department investigation found. Stanek provides no information showing that it does.

“Had a lot of nerve” - How so? By alerting people to a preventable connection to breast cancer?

“Naming her piece…” Apparently Stanek hasn’t been published by a newspaper or magazine. The editors, not the writer, decide an article’s headline, publication date, page placement, etc. But it is an appropriate title - the evidence I cite has in fact been overlooked, whether or not Stanek thinks it’s important.

Of course Spencer refuses to acknowledge the obvious and proven link between abortion and breast cancer and instead blamed this “leading cause of death in women in their late 30s to early 50s” on the fact that The New York Times, et al, do not talk enough about the hazards of flame retardant clothing….

Now we get to the real essence of her ire, and the fallacy on which the blog post is built. Stanek claims I “[Refuse] to acknowledge the obvious and proven link between abortion and breast cancer.” The link has not been proven, and in fact has been debunked thanks to several metastudies by, among others, the National Institutes of Health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer at Oxford University. Moreover, my article centered on the 50% of breast cancers whose cause is unknown and seemingly unrelated to all the conventional risks, which I enumerated.

“leading cause of death in women in their late 30s to early 50s” - The quotes indicate she questions the accuracy of this statistic. She can look it up - it’s true.

“blamed this…on the fact that [MSM] do not talk enough about the hazards of flame retardant clothing.” My article very specifically does not say that toxic chemicals or any one thing are the cause of breast cancer; indeed I point out that the press is missing the fact that science is finding the causes of breast (and other) cancers are complex and multi-factored, and the timing and pattern of chemical exposure are proving as important as dose. Moreover, it’s clearly not the Times’s fault that environmental factors pose a cancer risk - but I do examine the extent to which mainstream outlets dodge this kind of examination.

The willful ignorance is staggering. Admitting that “reproductive history,” i.e., delaying child-bearing or having no children at all, is a factor, Spencer and her ilk absurdly deny that stopping a pregnancy, which delays child-bearing or having any children at all, can possibly be implicated.

“Willful ignorance” - promoting the debunked idea that abortion causes breast cancer is what is willfully ignorant. Instead of admitting that a biological argument against abortion is faulty, and finding other arguments to advance their cause, the anti-abortion crusaders continue to badmouth and harass anyone who “denies” the abortion/breast cancer (”ABC”) connection. See this chilling post from Stanek’s own site about the harassment of someone from Avon who was attempting to raise funds for breast cancer awareness in a parking lot in Illinois.

“Spencer and her ilk” - who? feminists? media critics? people concerned about women’s environmental health?

“absurdly deny that stopping a pregnancy…can possibly be implicated.” Nothing in my article mentioned anything about stopping a pregnancy, pro or con. I did indeed acknowledge (not “admit”) that reproductive history, including having no children, is a factor in breast cancer. The problem I’m point out is that this, along with other known risks such as alcohol, obesity, and heredity, does not explain half of all breast cancers.

The scientific fact that ABC advocates hope to piggyback their argument on is that elevated levels of estrogen - natural and artificial-increase breast cancer risk. Women who menstruate earlier, bear no children, or bear children later in life - as well as those who use the birth control pill - do expose themselves to more estrogen. Through chemicals, we are exposed unwittingly to even more estrogen mimicking, substances. But there is no direct cause and effect for any one factor in cancer causality - if only it were that simple! - and if estrogen is the culprit then it might well be said that abstinence causes breast cancer, because no sex = no pregnancies = increased estrogen.

The challenge of this disease - and other cancers - is that those with many risk factors still may NOT get it, while a woman with 5 kids - like the one I met while waiting for a mammogram - can still turn up with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Science, and the media, need to examine all the overlapping and confounding factors if prevention or cure are to come.

Spencer also complained that when MSM does broach the topic of breast cancer, it dares to place at least partial responsibility on the victim, this while admitting “hormone-disrupting substances” and “carcinogens” can be problematic. The prime culprit in both those cases is hormonal birth control pills, which not only disrupt natural hormonal regulation of a woman’s body, they slowly poison a woman with low-dose carcinogenic estrogen over the course of years.

“Dares to place at least partial responsibility on the victim.” Besides being heartless, this comment’s underlying rationale seems to be that since abortion is said to cause breast cancer, then anyone who gets the disease must have had one, and is therefore evil and to blame for her fate. Obviously, this attitude does nothing to promote women’s health, and it hasn’t stopped women from getting abortions, either.

“The prime culprit [as far as hormone disrupting substances and carcinogens] is hormonal birth control pills, which …slowly poison a woman with low-dose carcinogenic estrogen….” Birth control pills do increase risk. This is well known; my concern was with lesser-known causes of breast cancer. But it’s not as if the pill is the most toxic substance on the planet, whose eradication will also end breast cancer. Estrogen, by the way, is not carcinogenic or “poisonous” in and of itself; that depends on dose, timing, and the individual involved. Again, Stanek is using floppy science to advance an archaic moral position that birth control is sinful.

I don’t know what Spencer and feminists expect. MSM must think it best to avoid the topic of breast cancer altogether rather than tow the line and ignore or lie about the most obvious 2 factors causing the breast cancer “epidemic.”

“I don’t know what Spencer and feminists expect.” Just read the article: I expect “a place in the headlines” for the growing evidence of environmental connections to breast cancer.

“MSM must think it best to avoid the topic of breast cancer altogether…” As I documented, the major media cover breast cancer plenty, just not from this angle. And Stanek has no reason to resent the 2,600 words allotted me: the debate over the role of abortion in causing breast cancer was all over the media a few years ago; in fact, reporter Chris Mooney published an article in Columbia Journalism Review discussing how the press often gives questionable minority positions as much credence as scientific consensus..

“tow the line” - the expression is “toe the line,” but whatever.

“the most obvious two factors” - This is factually false. See above. And again, my article focuses on lesser-known factors.

“epidemic” - again, by using quotes, Stanek minimizes the problem of breast cancer.

What will she say if she or someone she loves gets the disease?

(This post originally appeared April 13, 2009 on RH Reality Check.)

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