Abstinence Causes Breast Cancer! Or, How to Distort Facts to Suit Your Own Agenda

Miranda Spencer

In a reader diary post, Miranda Spencer says Jill Stanek contorts an investigative piece on the role of environmental factors in heightening breast cancer risk into an apologia for abortion.

When I published "Overlooking
Evidence: Major Media Ignore Environmental Connections to Breast Cancer
in Extra! this past February, I expected
that if anyone came after me, it would be the chemical manufacturers,
or perhaps the mainstream breast cancer-awareness groups. But much to
my surprise, I’m the target of anti-abortion crusaders – at least,
prominent blogger Jill Stanek.

How she contorts an investigative
piece on the role of environmental factors in heightening breast cancer
risk into an apologia for abortion offers a stunning example both of
the effects of tunnel vision on an issue and propaganda techniques in

I thought it would be useful
to deconstruct Stanek’s post (published 3/12/09 – my birthday!) to show just
how far afield political rhetoric can go, and while I’m at it, clarify
a few points in my article.

Let’s dissect Stanek’s
post, titled "Feminists dare
to complain about breast cancer reporting bias?
paragraph by paragraph:

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    Pro-abortion feminist
    journalist Miranda Spencer wrote a 2,600 word article for Fairness and
    Accuracy in Reporting in February complaining that MSM [mainstream
    media] does not spotlight factors contributing to the "epidemic"
    of breast cancer enough.

Pro-abortion feminist: Let’s
flay the messenger who brings bad news! Needless to say, I’m not pro-abortion,
I’m pro-choice; I support the right to have an abortion. But that’s
my private opinion. I wrote this article, like all I write, from the
standpoint of a reporter, plain and simple. To the extent it advocates,
my piece asks for more research and reporting on the effects of synthetic
chemicals on women’s health.

Complaining: Make
that "documenting," with quantitative and qualitative evidence.

"Epidemic": Stanek puts the word in quotes seemingly to demean its accuracy.
The documented lifetime risk of breast cancer for women is 1 in 8; for
most people that qualifies, colloquially speaking, as epidemic.

    Spencer, who supports
    giving US taxpayer money to international abortion groups
    as well
    as the United Nations Population Fund, which helps the Chinese
    government coerce women to abort,
    had a lot of nerve, particularly
    by naming her piece, "Overlooking evidence."

Here Stanek links to an open
letter from American feminists

published in Mother Jones magazine online, which I signed (as a private
citizen) in early 2008. Among other things, the letter supports reinstated
funding for the UN Population Fund. She is implying there has to be
a pro-abortion bias in my work – when nothing in the FAIR piece mentions
abortion at all, pro or con.

"International abortion
" is inaccurate – international family planning groups,
which provide a spectrum of health services to women, including information
about abortion, is more like it.

The UN Population Fund
simply does not "help the Chinese government coerce women to abort."
That is another widely circulated myth for which there is no evidence,
a State Department investigation found. Stanek provides no information
showing that it does.

"Had a lot of nerve"
– How so? By alerting people to a preventable connection to breast

"Naming her piece…"
Apparently Stanek hasn’t been published by a newspaper or magazine.
The editors, not the writer, decide an article’s headline, publication
date, page placement, etc. But it is an appropriate title – the evidence
I cite has in fact been overlooked, whether or not Stanek thinks it’s

    Of course Spencer refuses
    to acknowledge
    the obvious and proven link between abortion and
    breast cancer
    and instead blamed this "leading cause of
    death in women in their late 30s to early 50s" on the fact

    that The New York Times, et al, do not talk enough about the hazards
    of flame retardant clothing….

Now we get to the real essence
of her ire, and the fallacy on which the blog post is built. Stanek claims I "[Refuse]
to acknowledge the obvious and proven link between abortion and breast
The link has not been proven, and in fact has been
debunked thanks to several metastudies by, among others, the National
Institutes of Health
the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Collaborative
Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer at Oxford University.
Moreover, my article centered on the 50% of breast cancers whose cause
is unknown and seemingly unrelated to all the conventional risks, which
I enumerated.

cause of death in women in their late 30s to early 50s"
– The
quotes indicate she questions the accuracy of this statistic. She can
look it up – it’s true.

"blamed this…on the
fact that [MSM] do not talk enough about the hazards of flame retardant
My article very specifically does not say that toxic
chemicals or any one thing are the cause of breast cancer; indeed I
point out that the press is missing the fact that science is finding the causes of breast (and other) cancers are complex and multi-factored, and the timing and pattern of chemical exposure are proving as important as dose. Moreover,
it’s clearly not the Times’s fault that environmental factors pose
a cancer risk – but I do examine the extent to which mainstream outlets
dodge this kind of examination.

    The willful ignorance
    is staggering. Admitting that "reproductive history,"
    i.e., delaying child-bearing or having no children at all, is a factor,
    Spencer and her ilk absurdly deny that stopping a pregnancy,
    which delays child-bearing or having any children at all, can possibly
    be implicated.

"Willful ignorance"
– promoting the debunked idea that abortion causes breast cancer is
what is willfully ignorant. Instead of admitting that a biological argument
against abortion is faulty, and finding other arguments to advance their
cause, the anti-abortion crusaders continue to badmouth and harass anyone
who "denies" the abortion/breast cancer ("ABC") connection.
See this chilling post from Stanek’s own site about the harassment
of someone from Avon who was attempting to raise funds for breast cancer
awareness in a parking lot in Illinois.

"Spencer and her ilk"
– who? feminists? media critics? people concerned about women’s
environmental health?

"absurdly deny that stopping
a pregnancy…can possibly be implicated
." Nothing in my article
mentioned anything about stopping a pregnancy, pro or con. I did
indeed acknowledge (not "admit") that reproductive history, including
having no children, is a factor in breast cancer. The problem I’m
point out is that this, along with other known risks such as alcohol,
obesity, and heredity, does not explain half of all breast cancers.

The scientific fact that ABC
advocates hope to piggyback their argument on is that elevated levels
of estrogen – natural and artificial-increase breast cancer risk.
Women who menstruate earlier, bear no children, or bear children later
in life – as well as those who use the birth control pill – do expose
themselves to more estrogen. Through chemicals, we are exposed unwittingly
to even more estrogen mimicking, substances. But there is no
direct cause and effect for any one factor in cancer causality – if
only it were that simple! – and if estrogen is the culprit then it
might well be said that abstinence causes breast cancer, because no
sex = no pregnancies = increased estrogen.

The challenge of this disease
– and other cancers – is that those with many risk factors still
may NOT get it, while a woman with 5 kids – like the one I met while
waiting for a mammogram – can still turn up with an aggressive form
of breast cancer. Science, and the media, need to examine all
the overlapping and confounding factors if prevention or cure are to

    Spencer also complained
    that when MSM does broach the topic of breast cancer, it dares to
    place at least partial responsibility on the victim
    , this while
    "hormone-disrupting substances" and "carcinogens"
    can be problematic. The prime culprit in both those cases
    is hormonal birth control pills
    , which not only disrupt natural
    hormonal regulation of a woman’s body, they slowly poison a woman
    with low-dose carcinogenic estrogen
    over the course of years.

"Dares to place at least
partial responsibility on the victim."

Besides being heartless, this comment’s underlying rationale
seems to be that since abortion is said to cause breast cancer, then
anyone who gets the disease must have had one, and is therefore evil
and to blame for her fate. Obviously, this attitude does nothing to
promote women’s health, and it hasn’t stopped women from getting
abortions, either.

"The prime culprit [as
far as hormone disrupting substances and carcinogens] is hormonal birth
control pills, which …slowly poison a woman with low-dose carcinogenic
Birth control pills do increase risk. This
is well known; my concern was with lesser-known causes of breast cancer.
But it’s not as if the pill is the most toxic substance on the planet,
whose eradication will also end breast cancer. Estrogen, by the
way, is not carcinogenic or "poisonous" in and of itself;
that depends on dose, timing, and the individual involved. Again, Stanek
is using floppy science to advance an archaic moral position that birth
control is sinful.

    I don’t know what Spencer
    and feminists expect
    . MSM must think it best to avoid the topic
    of breast cancer altogether
    rather than tow the line and
    ignore or lie about the most obvious 2 factors causing the breast
    cancer "epidemic."

"I don’t know what Spencer
and feminists expect."
Just read the article: I expect "a
place in the headlines" for the growing evidence of environmental
connections to breast cancer.

"MSM must think it best
to avoid the topic of breast cancer altogether
As I documented, the major media cover breast cancer plenty, just not
from this angle. And Stanek has no reason to resent the 2,600
words allotted me: the debate over the role of abortion in causing breast
cancer was all over the media a few years ago; in fact, reporter Chris
Mooney published an article in Columbia Journalism Review
discussing how the press often gives questionable minority positions
as much credence as scientific consensus..

"tow the line"
the expression is "toe the line," but whatever.

"the most obvious two
– This is factually false. See above. And again, my
article focuses on lesser-known factors.

"epidemic" – again,
by using quotes, Stanek minimizes the problem of breast cancer. What
will she say if she or someone she loves gets the disease?

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