SAN DIEGO, CA, WED., AUG. 15, 2001 - Three California women are suing Planned Parenthood to force the nation's largest provider of abortions to reveal scientific evidence of a substantial link between induced abortion and increased risk of breast cancer, it was announced today by the Thomas More Law Center, a national, public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The women, Agnes Bernardo of Chula Vista, Pamela Colip of Loma Linda, and Sandra Duffy-Hawkins of Sacramento, filed suit this morning in the San Diego branch of the state superior court against Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties, which operates an abortion clinic in San Diego, as well as Planned Parenthood Federation of America (P.P.F.A.), headquartered in New York City. The plaintiffs are represented in the action by the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center. Stuart Fagan is serving as local legal counsel.
Patrick Gillen, the Thomas More Law Center's lead attorney in the case, explained that the complaint alleges that both P.P.F.A. and its San Diego affiliate consistently mislead women about the safety of abortion by obscuring evidence that induced abortion causes breast cancer. The plaintiffs are seeking no monetary damages. Rather, they want the court to compel Planned Parenthood to inform women that abortion poses a significant health risk in the form of increased vulnerability to breast cancer, the leading cause of death among middle-age women in America. "Planned Parenthood advocates a woman's right to choose," Gillen said. "Our clients want all women to have free access to the truthful and accurate information they need to make an informed choice."
The complaint filed today notes that Planned Parenthood touts the safety of abortion both in its printed materials and on its websites, claiming that childbirth "carries seven times more risk" than a surgical abortive procedure. But the complaint points out that the American Medical Association considers that any death subsequent to an abortion is related to the procedure if it results from "a direct complication of an abortion, an indirect complication caused by the chain of events initiated by the abortion, or the aggravation of a preexisting condition." "Planned Parenthood is trying to focus the attention of women only on surgical errors and other immediate complications of the procedure itself, which grossly understates the risk," Gillen said. "They dismiss the research that shows a connection between abortion and breast cancer which can increase the health risks associated with abortion by 30 percent."
Dr. Joel Brind, an endocrinologist at Baruch College of the City University of New York, who has analyzed the research concerning an abortion-breast cancer link, noted that a correlation between breast cancer and induced abortion was observed as long ago as a 1957 study conducted in Japan. In the years since, a body of evidence has accumulated from around the world, lending credence to the abortion-breast cancer connection. "Out of 37 independently published studies, 28 show a causal connection," Brind said. "And of those, 17 provide positive associations that reach statistical significance suggesting a 95-percent certainty that this association is not due to chance. That is scientific evidence which simply cannot be ignored."
Brind noted that research suggests the problem becomes more acute the earlier in life a women has an abortion. "The younger a woman is at the time of her first pregnancy, the greater the protection she will have if she carries her baby to term," he said. "Correspondingly, the younger she is when she has an abortion, the more prone to cancer she will likely be.
The three plaintiffs have brought their suit on behalf of the people of California, as permitted by California law. Agnes Bernardo explained that she and her co-plaintiffs feel a high degree of personal motivation in this effort. "I have experienced abortion, and I have been treated for a non-malignant tumor," Bernardo said. "I am very concerned about developing breast cancer as are most women. I strongly believe women should receive complete information about the studies linking induced abortion and breast cancer before making the decision to have an abortion."
Pamela Colip noted that she had an abortion some 30 years ago, which precipitated a premature birth in a subsequent pregnancy. "I was terribly disturbed when I learned about the abundance of scientific medical evidence showing that women who have had an induced abortion have a much greater risk of developing breast cancer," Colip said. "My abortion was performed some thirty years ago and I remember it as though it were yesterday. Besides the emotional and physical pain, and the tremendous health risks to future pregnancies, now there is the added risk of this devastating cancer. I believe that you can never have too much information. I believe that every woman deserves the respect to be fully informed about all the consequences surrounding such a procedure as this one. I had no such information about the negative consequences, I want to help make sure that others do."
Saundra Duffy-Hawkins explained that, while she has never had an abortion, she has been treated for cancer twice, and her mother died of cancer. "We all know first-hand what it means to go through these experiences," she said. "I want to do what I can to protect others from tragedies that can be avoided simply by having truthful information available. I believe that women need to understand the real risks they face before making choices that can destroy lives."
John Kindley, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, has published an article on legal liability arising from failure to disclose the abortion-breast cancer link. Kindley noted some of the ways in which Planned Parenthood is alleged to have misled women about the health risks of abortion.
"It's their practice to make claims about the safety of abortion based on very incomplete data," Kindley said. "At the same time, they attempt to discredit the very real scientific work which has been done showing an abortion-breast cancer link. For instance, they cite five studies that say the connection is unclear, while ignoring the overwhelming preponderance of the scientific evidence to the contrary. Then they assure their clients that the case for a connection is unproven. This is not only bad science, it's disingenuous to the point of being unethical." Brind explained the physical process which the studies indicate causes the increased risk.
"In the early stages of pregnancy, there is a dramatic increase in the level of estrogen, the female sex hormone," Brind said. "This estrogen surge causes an increase in the number of breast cells in preparation for nursing, which is why a pregnant woman's breasts tend to swell. In the last eight weeks of a full-term pregnancy, other hormones cause the increased tissue to stabilize into milk-producing cells. But at the early stage of rapid development, breast cells are in an undifferentiated state and highly vulnerable to mutations that can cause cancer."
Abortion interrupts the natural process of preparing a woman's body to bear and nurse a child, Brind observed, cutting off the final part of the sequence that provides breast tissue with a significant measure of protection against cancer.