Thursday, 9 July 2009

Lying for Jesus? The Christian Medical Fellowship on Abortion

I recently wrote a response for the National Secular Society to the BCAP Broadcast Advertising Standards Code consultation about advertising for family planning and abortion centres, and for condoms. Since then, the Christian Medical Forum has published its response. I was expecting moralising but not quite such an interesting relationship with evidence.

The CMF have, according to their website, more than 4,500 British doctors as members. All are Christians who desire their professional and personal lives to be governed by the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible. It exists to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

There are many areas in their submission to deal with, particularly their stance on condom adverts, which I plan to come back to. For now I'm going to focus on abortion advertising.

The CMF say there is no need to advertise abortion centres on TV because: Any woman considering abortion will be sufficiently motivated and will easily be able (with the help of friends if necessary) to find information about abortion providers from the wide range of sources currently available.

This argument could be applied to any product. No need for any TV adverts at all. But young women and those living in communities, religious or otherwise, that do not approve of abortion - or who condemn and punish it - are not going to find it easy to get information and support, and may even be afraid to go to their GP in case their families find out.

Once the CMF has made its pro-life stance clear with: Abortion is always a procedure with a 50% mortality - the life of the fetus is intentionally ended, they mostly avoid the explicitly moralistic angle and turn to highlighting the medical 'risks' of abortion (they are doctors, after all).

They baldly state that: Breast cancer rates are rising in Europe and North America and are projected to rise further. Then they say: There is evidence suggesting that having an abortion may increase a woman's risk of breast cancer in later life. However, it is undisputed that a full term pregnancy protects against subsequent breast cancer. The link is therefore biologically plausible.

Is this a plausible link? Is it even logical? Being childless also increases the risk, as does living longer, having it in the family - and being a nun. Should convents be banned from recruiting and are all childless women (wilfully barren wombs) including nuns somehow complicit in their own cancer?

There are many sources that cast doubt on the CMF 'evidence'. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine published the largest-scale study ever on this subject - with 1.5 million participants - which concluded that there is no independent link between abortion and breast cancer. Clearly if abortion does increase the risk of breast cancer, it does so by an undetectably small margin. Another source says In March 2003 the National Cancer Institute (NCI) declared emphatically that 'newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk'. NCI convened a symposium of over 100 of the world's leading experts to review existing studies on the relationship between pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage and breast cancer risk and concluded that having an abortion does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.

The CMF have used weasel-words 'may cause' and 'plausible' but once the spectre of cancer is raised, it is hard to exorcise. Playing on women's fears is a low tactic, especially women who may already be vulnerable because of an unwanted pregnancy.

Then there are the mental-health consequences. The first of these is: increased psychiatric hospitalisation - admission rates were higher post-abortion than post-partum when those with a priori psychiatric history were excluded.

However, the paper they cite to back up this assertion says in its conclusion: The observed associations may be the result of less social support for women who have an abortion compared with women who deliver; reactions to abortion itself or common risk factors among mentally ill women and those who have abortions have not yet been identified. And Our data controls for socioeconomic status by using only women from the lowest socioeconomic group in the United States. This strength, however, also limits our ability to draw any conclusions from these findings regarding women of other socioeconomic groups. And This suggests that social support following an abortion may be a significant mediator of adjustment. And Differences in earlier mental health history, more than a year before the pregnancy, may also have influenced the results.

Did the CMF actually read the paper? Four separate statements in one study that contradict them.

Another claimed link is for increased death rates from injury, suicide and homicide. As evidence, they cite this study which says that: It is unlikely that induced abortion itself causes death due to injury; instead it is more likely that induced abortions and deaths due to injury share common risk factors. It also notes that: Beginning in the mid-1990s, some studies reported that the check-up recommended to occur a few weeks after an induced abortion was also omitted, which ties in with what was noted earlier about post-abortion support making a big difference.

What's more, the study looked at 1,141,267 women who were pregnant or who had been one year before their deaths, from 1987-2000, and found that 82 died after giving birth and 92 after an abortion. Ninety two. Out of 1.1 million. It's a call for more support, it is not against abortion.

Just to make it even clearer, the time of greatest distress is likely to be before the abortion. While some women may experience sensations of regret, sadness and guilt after an abortion, the overwhelming responses are relief and happiness. In another study of 5,295 women over eight years, researchers concluded that the most important predictor of emotional well-being in post-abortion women was their well-being before the abortion and also noted that the incidence of diagnosed psychiatric illness and hospitalization is considerably lower following abortion than following childbirth

There are two further CMF reasons for not advertising abortion clinics. One is that people will start to see abortion as a form of contraception (that old one). The other is that men will stop using condoms, which will put them at a greater risk of STIs. Not women, just men. This is highly ironic given that the submission rails against condom adverts.

Mixed messages, misogyny, cherry-picking, biased reporting of evidence, dodgy methodology - whatever happened to Exodus 20:16?

1 comment:

  1. I find it almost abhorent that doctors could misquote medical literature so badly. Research papers are usually horribly manipulated to the quoter's need but to actually cite a 10 person margin in a study of 1.1 million is ludicris! To cite the possibility of cancer is a low blow, which is more likely to confuse and scare the vulnerable.