Pseudo-science and Pseudo-sympathy in the Abortion and Breast Cancer Debate

Amanda Marcotte

Anti-choicers use pseudo-science and pseudo-sympathy to perpetuate misinformation about the risks of abortion, and the unproven links to breast cancer. Why? Because they "care" about women.

Another year, another round of nonsense about a link between
abortion and breast cancer.  It’s
an interesting question to ask if anti-choicers are
misunderstanding a recent report on abortion and breast cancer
because they
want to or if it’s because they really aren’t sharp enough as a rule to
understand it (my sense is a combination of both factors), but one thing we
know for sure is that there is no such thing as evidence conclusive enough
disproving their claims that they will accept it.  The pseudo-scientific nonsense about abortion and breast
cancer has grown so out of control that even pro-science folks with huge
hang-ups about abortion
have had to come out and denounce the anti-choicers
spreading this myth.

All this going round and round on the actual facts at hand
is all very interesting, but between my links to Amie Newman and David Gorski
on this issue, I think the facts at hand are covered.  But what has always fascinated me—what generally
fascinates me when it comes to issues of pseudo-scientific hysteria—is the
question of why.  Why do
anti-choicers continue to flog this myth about breast cancer, even when they’re
shown time and again that there’s no link?  Why do they continue to insist that you’ll get breast cancer
if you get an abortion, even though the few, problem-laden studies that suggested a link showed a slight one at best?

At first, the answer seems obvious: They spread this
misinformation because they want to scare women off having abortions and
intimidate them into giving birth against their will.  But if you think about this for a moment, it doesn’t really
make sense.  Choosing an abortion
isn’t like refusing to wear sunscreen—most women who have abortions are
deeply invested in the choice not to have a baby right then, and a slightly
elevated risk of breast cancer (which doesn’t even exist!) will not deter them
from having to make a choice they feel they must make.  People make choices that elevate their
cancer risk that they don’t need to make all the time—we drink, we smoke, we
eat crappy food, and we go out in the sun without protection.  Some times we elevate our cancer risk a
lot for no good reason.  A slight
to nonexistent cancer risk associated with something that a woman feels she
must do for her immediate health, safety, and well-being is simply not going to
make a difference.

To hear anti-choicers carry on, abortion must be risk-free
in order to be an acceptable and legal choice, and since it is not risk-free,
it should be shoved underground and the risks attendant to it should be
multiplied.  Their reason for this
is presumably that they care about women. 
Care about women so much that they want to drive them to illegal
abortion and/or drive them to bear children against their will, which is much
riskier than having an abortion, since pregnancy and childbirth raise your
blood pressure, your risk of diabetes, and of course there’s all the dangers of
giving birth.  Their “care” for
women is very narrowly defined—it only pops up when it’s a politically
convenient cover story to excuse what is an assault on women’s fundamental

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With all this in mind, I’m forced to conclude that the
reason those anti-choicers—a group of people that is almost unilaterally
religious and uses their “faith” as a political tool—enjoy trotting out the
breast cancer myth is because it’s an unsubtle way to threaten women who get
abortions.  In other words, they’re
telling you that if you get an abortion, God will punish you.  And he’ll do so in a highly misogynistic
way, going after a symbol of your womanhood, your breasts.

Of course, telling someone God will punish her is basically
a way to punish her, but hiding behind God.  The God of the fundamentalists seems like a really awful
guy: he punishes gays
for not hating themselves
, Haiti
for throwing off the bonds of slavery and colonialism
, and America for valuing liberty and
  Telling women
they’ll get breast cancer if they get abortions falls into this habit.  It’s just a way to heap pain on women,
probably because Roe v. Wade has made
it hard to just toss them in jail for the crime of being jezebels. 

The problem, of course, is that many women who get abortions
have absorbed cultural misogyny and sex-phobia.  We all have low moments, moments of grief and sadness and
despair in our lives.  And some of
us are inclined to wonder, at those moments, if we’re being punished for doing
something wrong.  It’s in those
moments that being told that God will punish you for having an abortion will
creep into your mind, to make your sadness worse and your suffering more

And that, I think, is the true purpose of spreading this
myth—not to prevent abortions, but to make sure that women who get them
suffer for it, wallow in self-hatred, and otherwise are punished.  Not by God, of course, but by
anti-choicers.  And of course, the
jackpot for the folks spreading this myth is that a percentage of women who
have abortions—as well as a percentage that don’t—will inevitably develop
breast cancer.  And the hope is
that in that moment of pain and weakness, when a woman most needs to be able to
buck up her strength and carry on, that her abortion will come back and she’ll
be further wracked with pain and guilt and misery.  For having the gall, when she was younger, to care about
herself and take care of her own business.

But they are doing this to you because they “care”. 

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