In the early 1990s, several small studies addressed whether women who never carried a pregnancy to term—including women who had abortions—might have an increased risk of breast cancer. In 1997, when a well-regarded Danish study of 1.5 million women found no evidence that having an abortion increased one’s risk, pro-choicers breathed a sigh of relief.
But now, with Mattson v. Red River Women’s Clinic—the first case of its kind—an anti-choice activist is trying to prevent an abortion clinic from stating that medical research does not show that abortion causes breast cancer.
The plaintiff, Amy Jo Mattson, a “sidewalk counselor” (a person who stands outside an abortion clinic and begs women not to “murder” their child), is suing the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, under the state’s false advertising statute. “It’s definitely part of a greater campaign,” says the clinic’s counsel, Linda Rosenthal of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. Indeed, the anti-choice American Life League has announced a series of lawsuits against abortion providers. The suits will be based in part on the bogus breast cancer claim, and in fact Mattson’s lawyer authored a law review article urging malpractice cases against clinics that don’t disclose the “link” between breast cancer and abortion. Her expert witness is a pro-life scientist and the author of a widely disputed study that found a 30 percent increase in risk.
Mattson had sought a temporary injunction that would force the clinic to provide its clients with the following warning: “For women under age 30, having an abortion results in a higher risk of getting breast cancer . . . compared to having a baby.” At press time, Mattson’s injunction was denied.
Given that no cancer advocacy organization endorses the abortion/breast cancer link, it seems unlikely that the anti’s will win, although they will continue to keep clinics like Red River tied up in unfair and costly litigation. And that, say pro-choice activists, is exactly the point.