Photo above, Punam Kuma Gil
June 2016 – “I am a product of feminism … Even though I had never had an abortion myself, I held views that were much like many other women. Abortion is a woman’s legal right, hard won by the women who came before me. Beyond that, I hadn’t thought much about the topic. I presumed abortion was a difficult choice for a woman, but that it was a safe and healthy choice. So, when I heard that there might be long term health risks associated with abortion and that new laws were forcing the disclosure of these risks prior to abortion, it sounded to me like an anti-abortion strategy designed both to create fears in a woman prior to her procedure and to erode the legality of abortion.”
— Filmmaker Punam Kuma Gill
Punam Kuma Gill, an intelligent woman of Indian descent, was often agitated by news reports addressing abortion. From pro-lifers, she heard self-righteous tones and tuned them out.
As a feminist who supports a mother’s right to choose abortion, her interest focused on the impact of abortion on women rather than on the unborn. So, when Gill was asked to direct a documentary to explore health risks associated with abortion, she saw it as an opportunity to move beyond what she considered politically or religiously driven claims. Although she would inevitably face challenges working with a pro-life producer, she set out to tackle the issue objectively.
Gill’s research for the film that would be titled Hush took her to Dr. David Grimes, an OBGYN who has studied, taught, and provided abortions for over 40 years. “What we now know is there are no long-term consequences from abortion, either reproductive or otherwise,” he said with finality. “The abortion/breast cancer link is an old dog that they keep on flogging – it’s time to stop.”
“The jury is in,” he continued. “There is no relationship either between a miscarriage or induced abortion and breast cancer. And this is the opinion of all the major medical associations around the world that have looked at this. These include the American Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, World Health Organization, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecology of Canada.”
But could the professionals be wrong? Breast cancer has become the leading cause of death among women ages 20 to 59. The number of cases has increased exponentially and appears to correlate in some way with changes in the number of abortions since legalization in the early 1970s (See graph. Note: Breast cancer cells begin to develop about 10 years prior to detectability.). So why are reputable medical organizations consistently refuting any connection between abortion and breast cancer?
Gill called those organizations for explanations and was denied an interview in every instance. She was told the case was closed, and she was directed to websites which all pointed to a 2003 NCI conference where it was concluded once and for all that no link existed. On what was this sweeping decision based?
When she tried to visit NCI in person, she was quickly escorted off the property. “This was when I started to feel equally suspicious of those denying any link,” said Gill. “I felt like I was digging into something much deeper and darker. If the jury was in, why wouldn’t they stand behind their findings and speak to me?”
Gill located an online recording of the conference. What she found was astonishing.
“In spite of the assertion that 100 experts decided the case was closed on the abortion/breast cancer link,” explained Gill, “only a small handful of them were scientists who had actually done research directly related to the subject, and only one presented. They came to a final conclusion based on a 20-minute presentation [by Dr. Leslie Bernstein].”
According to Dr. Joel Brind, who had conducted an extensive meta-analysis on the subject and challenged the conclusion when the floor was opened for questions, no consideration was given to his review of 23 studies or the long history of studies that revealed significant positive association.
Gill’s film interview with breast surgeon Dr. Angela Lanfranchi cast more suspicion on the notion that no link exists between abortion and breast cancer.
After reading about abortion and breast cancer links in text books, Lanfranchi began asking for a complete reproductive history from her patients. She began to see the evidence in extremely aggressive breast cancers attacking young, post abortion women, many of whom died.
“Over the years,” Lanfranchi said with welling tears, “it didn’t matter how many studies there were. That information was not going to get out.”
Lanfranchi now travels internationally to provide education about the scientific process that brings about breast cancer. She explains that within the breast are lobules, each made up of a milk duct with surrounding milk glands. This is where cancer starts.
An infant is born with Type 1 lobules. After puberty, females develop more of the same. Some of those lobules become Type 2 lobules after puberty. Both types are vulnerable to cancer.
During the first half of pregnancy (proliferation phase), the number of Type 1 and 2 cancer susceptible lobules doubles. At 20 weeks of pregnancy, however, the differentiation process begins, and those lobules start to mature and change. By 32 weeks, lobules have matured enough to produce a protective barrier against breast cancer. By 40 weeks gestation,70-90% of the lobules have changed to Type 4 cancer resistant lobules. A full-term pregnancy, therefore, protects the mother against breast cancer (Breast Cancer Prevention Institute BCPI Fact Sheet Breast Development).
By interrupting the pregnancy before the [full] differentiation,” explained Lanfranchi, “Your breasts have more places for cancer to start. And that’s why induced abortion increases the risk of breast cancer.”
What about miscarriage? According to Lanfranchi, the vast majority of first trimester miscarriages occur because the body fails to produce enough estrogen, the hormone that causes the increased number of cancer susceptible lobules in a normal pregnancy. Thus, those miscarriages do not pose the same threat as induced abortions. However, premature births and late term miscarriages (before 32 weeks) leave the breast in a cancer vulnerable state because the Type 1 and 2 lobules have not reached the protected phase yet.
Despite holding to her pro-choice convictions, Gill recognized what she calls “a bizarre twist of fate in the making of the film” – she lost a son to miscarriage just before 32 weeks gestation.
“I set out to investigate the health risks of women who had abortions, and now I was faced with my own breast cancer risks. But who was I supposed to trust?
“In all honesty, because of my own bias, I still apply some discretion to the information coming from pro-life individuals,” she confesses in the film. “But I do find validity to their claims. What I found most sickening, though, is that the media and health organizations have spent their energies closing the case and vilifing those who advocate in favor of the link instead of investigating any and all reasons why breast cancer rates among young women have increased, and women are dying.”
Note: Breast cancer cells begin to develop about 10 years prior to detectibility.
A second opinion
Regarding a link between abortion and breast cancer, The Christian Medical & Dental Associations (cmda.org) offer the following statement:
1. While it cannot be stated for certain that abortion causes breast cancer, it is clear that abortion removes the benefit that pregnancy has on lowering a woman’s risk of breast cancer; and
2. Currently available data provide enough concern that abortion may increase the risk of breast cancer, and healthcare professionals have an ethical obligation to make this potential risk known to patients considering abortion (informed consent).
For more on this issue
▶ Breast Cancer Prevention Institute bcpinstitute.org
▶ Hush, produced by Mighty Motion Pictures hushfilm.com