Pro-lifers were geared up for a fight in the House State Affairs Committee today on HB 2945, but they needn’t have worried. The point of debate was less on the morality of abortion —although any abortion-related bill is bound to draw controversy—but on whether there is actually a medically proven risk of breast cancer following an abortion. And the answer is, no, there isn’t.
The bill proposes to amend the section of the Texas Health and Safety Code that details what informational materials patients seeking abortions must receive. Currently, the code states that a woman must be informed of the heightened risk of breast cancer as a potential result of an abortion. The information, as was argued during the hearing today, is false.
This section of the Texas Health and Safety Code has been highly controversial since its inception, but Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), who authored the bill, was clear that she did not intend to limit the section itself. The bill merely removes the requirement that women seeking an abortion be informed of “the possibility of increased risk of breast cancer following an induced abortion and the natural protective effect of a completed pregnancy in avoiding breast cancer.”
“There is absolutely no scientific evidence to make this conclusion … This is affirmed by the American Cancer Society as well as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,” Davis said.
Dr. Lisa Hollier, a board member of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists represented the medical community in support of the bill and reaffirmed the scientific consensuses: There is no credible evidence that links breast cancer to abortions.
“As physicians providing counseling and information to our patients, we endeavor to be accurate. The purpose of the counseling is to provide non-biased education, so that a patient can understand her condition,” Hollier said. “Texas women deserve to be presented with the most recent and updated medical scientific information that we have.”
Inevitably the bill brought forth a slew of anti-abortion advocates. Dr. Beverly Nuckols, a board member of the Texas Alliance for Life and the owner of a small family-medicine practice, testified against the bill. “There is a protective benefit for each pregnancy. There is a greater protective benefit for having your first child before the age of 20,” said Nuckols. “If [mothers] have a risk factor in their family that this pregnancy can cut their risk of breast cancer in half.”
Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) caught the implication. “Are you saying—are you prescribing pregnancy to avoid breast cancer?”
Nuckols was flustered. “No, but I’m happy to tell a woman who did have a child before she was 20 that she does halve the risk of having breast cancer than a woman who had her first child after 30.” Nuckols emphasized the “30” with a hint of disdain.
Nuckols only dug herself into a deeper hole. A key study she cited was completed in 1997—known as the Melbye study—that, according to Nuckols, definitively linked abortion with a greater risk for breast cancer. This turned out to be a poor argument. In fact, as representatives on the panel pointed out, the Melbye study was peer-reviewed and credible, but concluded just the opposite: that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. Oops. Nuckols slunk back to her seat.
Tama Chunn, board member of Houston-based Life Advocates, also testified against the bill. She, too, cited weak studies and sources. One by one, her sources were shot down: a reference to AbortionBreastCancer.com was dismissed since it was not a government-sponsored website. Vague references to “studies” completed by Dr. Joel Brind, of Baruch College, were similarly dismissed because none of his work has been published in a credible, peer-reviewed journal.
Committee members grew frustrated at the lack of credible sources being cited in the arguments against the bill.
“If you don’t have the proper person or institute with the proper credentials reviewing these things, you can reach all kinds of conclusions,” Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas) said.
Committee members were in general agreement that the connection between breast cancer and abortion is hypothetical, at best. Davis, who is a breast cancer survivor and considers herself pro-life, closed the debate.
“This bill is not about abortion. It’s not about being pro-life, it’s not about being pro-choice. It’s about giving scientifically accurate information,” Davis said. “And if we as the Legislature are going to so invade the physician-patient relationship, such that we are going to prescribe, by statute, what physicians say to their patients, then we have a duty to make sure that it is based on the most accurate science available.”
The bill was left pending.