Wash. Post Inexplicably Gives Credence To Discredited Abortion-Breast Cancer Link

A post appeared on The Washington Post's health blog The Checkup today titled “Should Komen have been funding Planned Parenthood in the first place?” The post discusses the decision of the breast-cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure to no longer partner with Planned Parenthood affiliates to provide breast exams.

The post, written by health columnist Jennifer LaRue Huget, asks whether Komen should have been funding Planned Parenthood because an organization called The Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer claims that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. This organization is run by Karen Malec, who apparently has no medical background and presents herself primarily as a journalist, according to her biography.

It's unclear why Huget is treating the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer seriously. Huget admits that research on the link between abortion and breast cancer risk is “spotty” but nonetheless links to a study from November 2011 that suggests that there may be an increase in breast cancer risk among women who have had an abortion.

Malec promoted this study shortly after it was published last year, and The Daily Caller wrote an article advancing her claims. At the time, Media Matters spoke about the study with the former chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who called the study's methodology “one of the worst” he's seen and said it was “grossly inadequate”:

Public Health Expert David Grimes: Study's Methodology Was “Grossly Inadequate.” In an interview with Media Matters, Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor of OB/GYN at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and former chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the study's methodology “one of the worst” he had seen. He stated that it was “grossly inadequate to attempt to gather detailed personal histories about women's reproductive lives by telephone,” adding that the study was not designed to study the relationship between abortion and cancer.

“In studies of this type,” he said, “the persistent under-reporting of prior abortions among healthy controls (social desirability bias) produces a spurious relationship between abortion and later breast cancer.” Hence, studies that “rely on only self-reports of abortion (as opposed to medical records) are not credible.” [Media Matters, 12/1/11]

Huget went on to acknowledge that “the bulk of evidence appears to argue against abortion's causing breast cancer.” Which is true. She cites the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, which both explain that, according to a number of studies, having an abortion has not been found to increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

To sum up: Huget wrote a provocative headline, gave credence to a theory that has been widely debunked, and then debunked it herself. If you're wondering why this piece needed to be written at all, Huget explains that it's because “Komen's decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood will certainly revive this debate.”

With some help from Huget.