Exposing the Junk Science of the Anti-Choice Movement

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.




Associate editor of Ms. magazine