Weekly Pulse: Palin Revives Death Panels and Boobs Against Breast Cancer

Lindsay Beyerstein

Sarah Palin is back on her death panel kick, just in time for Halloween, plus commentary on dubious breast cancer "awareness" campaigns and anti-gay bullying.

Don’t look now, but Sarah Palin is back on her death panel kick, just in time for Halloween. No, really, don’t look. It just encourages the former governor of Alaska to recycle the exhaustively debunked allegation that health care reform will involve bringing the elderly and the disabled before “death panels” who will judge whether they are fit to live.

David Corn of Mother Jones caught Palin referencing the thoroughly debunked myth in her latest interview with the conservative website Newsmax. Oh, and she says she won’t rule out a presidential run in 2012.

Boobs against breast cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 207,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and that nearly 40,000 will die of the disease this year. Breast cancer is the second-most common form of cancer in women.

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Amie Newman of Rewire notes that even Kentucky Fried Chicken is getting in on the awareness action with pink chicken buckets “for the cure.” This month, KFC is donating 50 cents from each rosy-hued tub of Original Recipe chicken to Susan G. Komen For The Cure, a leading breast cancer advocacy group. The promotion is expected to raise between $1 million and $8 million for breast cancer research and activism. That’s between 2 million and 16 million buckets of chicken. It’s more of a barometer than a donation, really.

The fewer buckets they sell, the more awareness has been raised. Newman notes that KFC’s french fries are an unusually rich source of acrylamide, a probable human carcinogen found in deep fried foods. In a recent study, women with the highest acrylamide intakes were at 43% greater risk for hormone-positive breast cancers.

Some marketers have decided that the root cause of our society’s lack of breast cancer awareness is our lack of breast awareness in general. This doesn’t seem quite right, especially because the breasts most likely to get cancer (those of women over 50) are seldom the breasts featured in the the various “save the gazongas” campaigns we’re subjected to every October.

Martha Pitts of the Ms. Blog wonders whose bright idea it was to “raise awareness” about breast cancer by inviting women to list their bra color as a Facebook status update. Pitts wonders how learning about friends’ underwear will motivate anyone to learn more about breast self-exams or mammograms. According to Ann Pietrangelo of Care2, the latest breast cancer “awareness” meme took a turn for the Dada-esque. This year, women were invited complete the sentence: “I like it on the…” referring, of course to where the Facebook user likes to keep her purse. Obviously, they need a meta-awareness campaign to explain what this has to do with breast cancer.

Monica Potts of TAPPED reminds us that while activists and policy makers are wrangling about access to mammograms, which may or may not improve women’s odds of surviving breast cancer, about 4000 women a year still die of cervical cancer in the US, despite the fact that the disease is almost completely preventable with routine Pap smears.

Anti-gay bullying

In other public health news, anti-gay bullying is making headlines all over the country. A series of high-profile suicides by bullied gay youth have riveted national attention on the issue. The statistics are sobering. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, and LGBTQ youth are at significantly higher risk of suicidal behavior than their straight peers.

Nine out of ten LGBTQ youths told researchers that they had been harassed at school and two out of three said they felt unsafe at school because of their orientation, Jessica Strong reports for Campus Progress.

In Minnesota, three gay students the Anoka-Hennepin school district have committed suicide this year and the district is facing increasing pressure to crack down on homophobic bullying. However, not everyone’s on board.

Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent reports that the head of a Christian rock ministry called “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide” is opposing the anti-bullying programs, which he considers to be a recruiting tactic for gays, and by extension, child molesters (?!). Birkey also reports that Minnesota’s Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Tom Emmer, has said he won’t sign an anti-bullying bill if he is elected. Emmer has a strongly anti-gay record as a state legislator. The department store chain Target drew the ire of national gay rights groups when it gave a major donation to a pro-Emmer PAC.

Coming out for…

Monday was National Coming Out Day. To mark the occasion, Richard Kim published a piece in The Nation arguing that tougher criminal penalties aren’t necessarily the solution to anti-gay bullying. Bullies are, after all, mirroring the prejudices they see in adult society:

It’s tougher, more uncertain work creating a world that loves queer kids, that wants them to live and thrive. But try—try as if someone’s life depended on it. Imagine saying I really wish my son turns out to be gay. Imagine hoping that your 2-year-old daughter grows up to be transgendered. Imagine not assuming the gender of your child’s future prom date or spouse; imagine keeping that space blank or occupied by boys and girls of all types. Imagine petitioning your local board of education to hire more gay elementary school teachers.

Kim argues that simply heaping more punishment onto bullies is an easy way out for a society that doesn’t want to grapple with widespread homophobia.

Analysis Abortion

From Webbed Feet to Breast Cancer, Anti-Choice ‘Experts’ Renew False Claims

Ally Boguhn & Amy Littlefield

In a series of workshops over a three-day conference in Herndon, Virginia, self-proclaimed medical and scientific experts renewed their debunked efforts to promote the purported links between abortion and a host of negative outcomes, including breast cancer and mental health problems.

Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court rejected the anti-choice movement’s unscientific claims about how abortion restrictions make patients safer, the National Right to Life Convention hosted a slate of anti-choice “experts,” who promoted even more dubious claims that fly in the face of accepted medical science.

In a series of workshops over the three-day conference in Herndon, Virginia, self-proclaimed medical and scientific experts, including several whose false claims have been exposed by Rewire, renewed their efforts to promote the purported links between abortion and a host of negative outcomes, including breast cancer and mental health problems.

Some of those who spoke at the convention were stalwarts featured in the Rewire series “False Witnesses,” which exposed the anti-choice movement’s attempts to mislead lawmakers, courts, and the public about abortion care.

One frequent claim, that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, has been refuted by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But that hasn’t stopped “experts” like Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a breast cancer surgeon and anti-choice activist, from giving court testimonies and traveling around the world spreading that brand of misinformation.

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During a Thursday session titled “The Abortion-Breast Cancer Link: The Biological Basis, The Studies, and the Fraud,” Lanfranchi, one of Rewire’s “False Witnesses,” pushed her debunked talking points.

Throughout the presentation, which was attended by Rewire, Lanfranchi argued that there is “widespread fraudulent behavior among scientists and medical organizations to obfuscate the link” between abortion and breast cancer.

In a statement, the irony of which may have been lost on many in the room, Lanfranchi told attendees that sometimes “scientists in the pursuit of truth can be frauds.” Lanfranchi went on to point to numerous studies and texts she claimed supported her theories and lamented that over time, textbooks that had previously suggested a link between abortion and breast cancer in the ’90s were later updated to exclude the claim.

Lanfranchi later pivoted to note her inclusion in Rewire’s “False Witnesses” project, which she deemed an “attack.” 

“We were one of 14 people that were on this site … as liars,” said Lanfranchi as she showed a slide of the webpage. “Now when people Google my name, instead of my practice coming up,” Rewire’s story appears.

Priscilla Coleman, another “False Witness” best known for erroneously claiming that abortion causes mental health problems and drug abuse, similarly bemoaned her inclusion in Rewire’s project during her brief participation in a Thursday session, “The Conspiracy of Silence: Roadblocks to Getting Abortion Facts to the Public.”

After claiming that there is ample evidence that abortion is associated with suicide and eating disorders, Coleman suggested that many media outlets were blocking the truth by not reporting on her findings. When it came to Rewire, Coleman wrote the outlet off as a part of the “extreme left,” telling the room that “if you look deeply into their analysis of each of our backgrounds, a lot of it is lies … it’s bogus information.”

An extensive review conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2008, however, found “no evidence sufficient to support” claims such as Coleman’s that “an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion.”

Rounding out the medical misinformation pushed in that session was Eve Sanchez Silver, the director and founder of the International Coalition of Color for Life. According to the biography listed on her organization’s website, Silver bills herself as a “bioethicist” who focuses on “the Abortion-Breast cancer link.”

Silver, who previously worked at the Susan G. Komen Foundation but left, she said, after finding out the organization gave money to Planned Parenthood, spent much of her presentation arguing that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. She also detailed what she referred to as the “Pink Money Cycle,” a process in which, as she explained, money is given to Komen, which in turn donates to Planned Parenthood. As Silver told it, Planned Parenthood then gives people abortions, leading to more cases of breast cancer. 

The seemingly conspiracy-driven theory has popped up in several of Silver’s presentations over the years.

Though Komen does in fact provide some funding to Planned Parenthood through grants, a July 2015 press release from the the breast cancer organization explains that it does “not and never [has] funded abortion or reproductive services at Planned Parenthood or any grantee.” Instead, the money Planned Parenthood receives from Komen “pays for breast health outreach and breast screenings for low-income, uninsured or under-insured individuals.”

On Saturday, another subject of Rewire’s “False Witnesses” series, endocrinologist Joel Brind, doubled down on his claims about the link between abortion and breast cancer in a workshop titled “New American Export to Asia: The Cover-Up of the Abortion-Breast Cancer Link.” 

Brind described the Indian subcontinent as the ideal place to study the purported link between abortion and breast cancer. According to Brind, “The typical woman [there] has gotten married as a teenager, started having kids right away, breastfeeds all of them, has lots of them, never smokes, never drinks, what else is she going to get breast cancer from? Nothing.”

When it came to research from Asia that didn’t necessarily support his conclusions about abortion and breast cancerBrind chalked it up to an international cover-up effort, “spearheaded, obviously, by our own National Cancer Institute.”

Although five states require counseling for abortion patients that includes the supposed link between abortion and breast cancer, Brind told Rewire that the link has become “the kind of thing that legislators don’t want to touch” because they would be going “against what all of these medical authorities say.” 

Brind also dedicated a portion of his presentation to promoting the purported cancer-preventing benefits of glycine, which he sells in supplement form through his company, Natural Food Science LLC. 

“If I sprain my ankle it doesn’t swell up, the injury will just heal,” Brind claimed, citing the supposed effects of glycine on inflammation. 

In a Thursday session on “the rise of the DIY abortion”, panelist Randall O’Bannon questioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) March update to regulations on mifepristone, a drug also known as RU-486 that is used in medical abortions. Noting that the drug is “cheap,” O’Bannon appeared to fret that the new regulations might make abortion more accessible, going on to claim that there could be “a push to make [the drug] available over the counter.”

O’Bannon claimed there are “documented safety issues” associated with the drug, but the FDA says mifepristone is “safe and effective.” A 2011 post-market study by the agency of those who have used the drug since its approval found that more than 1.5 million women had used it to end a pregnancy in the U.S. Of those women, just roughly 2,200 experienced an “adverse event.” According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra.

Speculating that misoprostol, another drug used in medication abortions, was less effective than medical experts say, O’Bannon later suggested that more embryos would “survive” abortions, leading to an “increased numbers of births with children with club feet, webbed toes, and fingers [and] full and partial facial paralysis.”

According to the World Health Organization, “Available data regarding a potential risk of fetal abnormality after an unsuccessful medical abortion are limited and inconclusive.”

News Law and Policy

California Requires Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Tell the Truth

Teddy Wilson

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act would require licensed clinics that provide family planning or pregnancy-related services to provide a notice to consumers regarding their reproductive rights.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill Friday that would require crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to offer pregnant people information about state programs providing reproductive health-care services, including abortion.

CPC groups reacted to the new law, which is scheduled to take effect on January 1, by filing a lawsuit Saturday to block the measure, reported the Sacramento Bee.

AB 775, known as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, would require licensed clinics that provide family planning or pregnancy-related services to provide a notice to consumers regarding their reproductive rights.

The legislation targets CPCs, requiring them to inform patients that California has public programs that provide immediate and free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women.

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The bill would also require CPCs without medical licenses that advertise and provide pregnancy testing and care to post a notice saying they have neither a license nor licensed providers on staff. CPCs, supported by anti-choice lawmakers on the state and federal levels, have been found to dole out misinformation about abortion. They are often staffed by people dressed in lab coats offering medical advice to pregnant women.

There are more than 300 CPCs in California, according to the Heartbeat International directory.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that CPCs are “ground-zero” in the fight for reproductive freedom.

“Gov. Brown and the California legislature can be proud of leading the first successful statewide effort to ensure that no woman is tricked into walking through doors of a CPC to be manipulated and shamed again,” Hogue said. “This is the kind of change that 7 in 10 Americans have been clamoring for—to expand access, not reduce it.”

NARAL Pro-Choice California last year sent undercover investigators into CPCs to document common practices. A report released in March found that CPCs strategically misinform and deceive pregnant people, always with the same underlying message: bring the pregnancy to term.

Ninety-one percent of centers visited by NARAL doled out misinformation about the effects of abortion on a person’s physical and mental health, saying that having an abortion would increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility, miscarriage, and/or depression that results in suicide.

“She told me that for some women, [abortion clinics] dilate them too fast and they might miscarry a lot because the cervix might not close up all the way,” said one investigator, whose name was concealed. “So I might have a lot of miscarriages if I aborted the baby.”

In another instance, a CPC employee mistook an investigator’s intrauterine device (IUD) for a fetus during an ultrasound, telling the investigator that it was “her baby.” CPC employees told undercover investigators that going through with an induced abortion is unnecessary, because the chance of a spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage, is 30-50 percent.

The lawsuit filed by the Pacific Justice Institute on behalf of two religiously affiliated CPCs, the Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California in Redding, claims that the law violates the organizations’ First Amendment rights.

The Pacific Justice Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation for conservative and religious organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the institute as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

The complaint states that the law “unconstitutionally compels (the clinics) to speak messages that they have not chosen, with which they do not agree, and that distract, and detract from, the messages they have chosen to speak.”

The bill was passed with large majorities in the Democratic-led California legislature. The senate passed the bill in September with a 24-14 vote, and the assembly approved the bill in May with a 49-26 vote.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Sacramento Bee that bill is about ensuring women are fully informed of all of their reproductive health-care options, regardless of where they seek that information.

“It’s hard to understand how those who claim to care about women find it so threatening to inform them about accessing affordable health care,” Burke said.

Opponents of the legislation have claimed that it is intended to “bully” CPCs and that it infringes on freedom of speech and religious liberty.

“You may not like the message that these people are putting forward, you may not like what they have to say, but they have every right under our Constitution for freedom of speech just like anyone else,” said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), reported the Sacramento Bee.

A coalition of more than 100 religious leaders signed a letter supporting the bill, and encouraging Brown to sign the bill.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director for Catholics for Choice, wrote that the legislation does not violate religious freedom. “It respects the definition of religious freedom—freedom of and freedom from—by allowing women of every faith, and women of no faith, in California to access affordable health care,” Ratcliffe wrote.