Exposing the Junk Science of the Anti-Choice Movement

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Abortion is linked to breast cancer.

Abortion leads to mental illness and drug abuse.

Women are frequently admitted to hospitals with abortion-related complications.

One thing the above statements have in common? They’re myths, and abortion-rights activists have worked hard to debunk them.

Most recently, as part of an investigative project, RH Reality Check found 14 doctors, scientists and academics who have aided in pushing “false information designed to mislead the public, lawmakers and the courts about abortion.” In their “False Witnesses” exposé, they name these participants, exploring each one’s role in the anti-choice movement.

A lot of the people fingered by RH Reality Check have been long-time anti-choice activists or ultra-conservative evangelicals who spread inaccuracies about abortion in court testimony. Endocrinologist Joel L. Brind and Dr. Angela E. Lanfranchi, for example, have testified on the supposed link between abortion and breast cancer. Dr. Monique Vera Chireau, psychotherapist Vincent M. Rue and research professor Priscilla K. Coleman have testified on a link between abortion and mental illness.

One of the doctors investigated by RH Reality Check, Dr. James C. Anderson, is an emergency room physician in Richmond, Virginia, who  has testified around the country that it is medically necessary for abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. He claims this protects patients and is the best medical practice. In February 2013, while testifying in a North Dakota TRAP law case, he said:

If a physician cannot obtain privileges for the specific requested procedures at his or her local hospital, then in my expert opinion, the physician is not qualified to do the surgical procedures that have life-changing or life-threatening impact.

The medical community has widely concluded that this is false. Both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have said there is “no medical basis” for requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges. In a brief supporting a challenge to Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB2, the organizations affirmed that:

In contemporary medical practice, it is not only accepted, but expected, that a woman experiencing a rare complication from an abortion—or any other medical procedure—will receive care for that complication from a nearby hospital. … There is no medically sound reason for Texas to impose a more stringent requirement on facilities in which abortions are performed than it does on facilities that perform other procedures that carry similar, or even greater, risks.

Anderson, like many of the “false witnesses,” has been compensated generously for his courtroom appearances—all on the taxpayer’s dime, according to RH Reality Check. In just the past two years, he has been paid $24,106 by the Texas Office of the Attorney General, $17,224 by the Alaska Department of Law and $16,350 by the Alabama Office of the Attorney General, all expert witness fees.

“They’re in the business of manufacturing doubt. All they need to do is insert the idea that there might be dangers with abortion,” said Sharona Coutts, investigative reporter for RH Reality Check, during a teleconference. “The overwhelming evidence is that abortion is safe and already very regulated.”

RH Reality Check’s report is only the latest to show that this pseudoscience about abortion doesn’t hold water.

In 2003, the National Cancer Institute concluded after extensive research that having an abortion or a miscarriage in no way increases one’s breast cancer risk. Despite this, more than 15 states have considered laws that would require doctors to give this inaccurate information to women seeking abortions.

The American Psychological Association also released a statement saying there is no credible evidence that abortion causes mental illness, but that the stigma and lack of social support surrounding abortion can have a negative effect on mental health.

These lies are exposed time and again, but continue to influence legislation and public opinion. DuVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project, tells the Ms. Blog:

It’s particularly insidious that this junk science has received and is continuing to receive a tremendous financial backing. These medical professionals recycle lies that provide justification for policy-making that affects women’s lives. If the National Cancer Institute, the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health say—based on longitudinal studies—that there’s no link between abortion and breast cancer or mental illness, we should believe the evidence-based science.

Fallacious data has been used to pass or uphold TRAP laws in TexasAlabamaMississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin, and the lies spread at the state level quickly become a national problem, as higher courts often defer to the findings of lower courts. That’s why calling out junk science is so critical to protecting abortion rights.

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Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. DanielleinDC says:

    A question for James Anderson: “Doctor, in your practice as an emergency room physician, how many patients would you say you have had present with complications from abortions and what percentage of the emergency room practice do they constitute?”

    • I watched the hearings in WI this summer, and one of the biggest concerns involved is that abortion providers don’t meet the minimum number of patients admitted per year that’s sometimes required to maintain privileges.

  2. Cait McKnelly says:

    Vincent Rue is not a “psychotherapist”. He holds a PhD in family studies but is neither a licensed physician nor a psychologist. He did hold a license in family therapy in California at one time but it hasn’t been active in eleven years and was issued throgh the social work licensing board and not through the board of healing arts. He is, to put it bluntly, a professional anti-abortionist. His income comes from the various states who have used him as a professional witness. (Those are TAX DOLLARS, by the way, that are used to pay him.)
    His testimony has been thoroughly discredited and thrown out in no less than three courts; two of them directly and one where he wasn’t even ALLOWED to testify but he did so through another expert witness whose testimony he prepared. When the judge found out that the witnesse’s testimony was almost verbatim read as Rue wrote it, he was furious.

  3. Before you start talking about an embryo’s “rights”, you have to get past the fact that nothing inside a woman’s body is anyone’s business but her own.

    And there’s no getting past that.

  4. XaurreauX says:

    They have to lie; they have no choice. If the government won’t prop up their religion for them they will be forced to actually have faith in the god they claim to worship. They may be crazy, but they ain’t dumb!

  5. Biologically speaking, the unborn are, like sperm and ova incomplete humans unable to survive outside of the uterus of a woman. All three are alive . Fertilization of the ova by the sperm is the continuation of life. Zillions of sperm ejaculated during coitus and ova expelled during menstruation DIE. They all go to waste as int ended by the creator. So an abortion is not murder anymore than the death of those other potential life creatures, viz. sperm and ova as well as fertilized ova that are spontaneously aborted or miscarried. Potential life does not equal the mother’s life, a complete human being with the Natural Rights of a born, individual person as recognized in the Declaration of Independence, the foundation of the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. Any questions?

  6. Therefore, one has to conclude that if nature allows so many sperm, ova, fertilized eggs and embryos to die, saving a woman’s fetus is not being pro-life anymore than the creator is. A safe, legal medical abortion actually saves lives; those of mothers, children and fathers. It prevents poverty and all the miseries accompanying it. It makes for healthier families, neighborhoods, societies and helps improve the economy. Now that is true pro-life-ism. Women who plan their families are healthier and they and their partners are better able to raise educated and productive adults. Those adult citizens earn more and can afford to buy more thus good for the economy.

  7. Michael Endersby says:

    It’s interesting that an associate editor, drawing information from a website (RH reality Check) makes such wild accusations of “junk science” in the face of a peer reviewed scientific research analysis including nearly 900,000 subjects and published in the prestigious British journal of Psychiatry indicating a link between abortion and psychological problems. (Priscilla k. Coleman, PhD., Abortion and mental health: quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995–2009).

    Even the possibility of adverse mental health outcomes of abortion should be addressed and support methods developed to prevent this or treat affected woman. What is the left afraid of?

    Opinion really is the lowest form of knowledge. Frankly, there is little, if anything here that could remotely pass for knowledge. The extreme bias and ignorance of the left on these issues is surpassed only by their arrogance.

    I am confident that science and the associated facts will ultimately rule the day, and overwhelm the pro-choice political agenda — then perhaps those affected will no longer be condemned to suffer in silence.

    • lily fassbinder says:

      You’re very confused if you consider opinion a form of knowledge, which is akin to saying fish are a form of mammals. Just as there are mammals, fish and amphibians; similarly, there is fact, there is falsehood, and there is opinion – three separate categories. I am so grateful for your comment, here, to illustrate for all of us the falsehoods the far right requires in their attempts to vilify women making reproductive choices, as well as the vitriol needed to spice up your word salad. As to ‘those affected’ who are ‘condemned to suffer’, abortions are only performed after 12 weeks in an statistically insignificant (that means a very very small) number. A 12-week-old fetus is not formed fully enough to experience any pain that the pro-forced-birthers lie about. Again, I thank you for your uncanny illustration. If every person screaming about fetus’s rights would stand up and scream for the rights of the abused and neglected children – the US kills 5 to 6 children every DAY in child abuse or neglect – then society might raise ourselves above the brutish level the far right has driven us down to.

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