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Owler slams Minister for ‘irresponsible’ abortion remarks

19 Aug 2014

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler has lambasted a senior Abbott Government Minister for lending credibility to claims of a link between abortion and breast cancer.

A/Professor Owler said Employment Minister Eric Abetz had been insensitive and “quite irresponsible” in encouraging the mistaken view that having an abortion was connected with the development of breast cancer during a television interview.

“It needs to be made very clear that there are very robust studies, international studies, which have discredited any link between abortion and breast cancer,” the AMA President said. “I think it's very unhelpful, both for people who might be struggling with the concept of termination of pregnancy, which may have a very valid reason, but also for people that have suffered or have family members that have suffered from breast cancer.”

A/Professor Owler made his condemnation after Senator Abetz, interviewed on Channel Ten program The Project, appeared to lend credence to the views of a controversial US surgeon, Dr Angela Lanfranchi, who argues abortion is linked to breast cancer.

When asked what he thought of Dr Lanfrnachi’s theories, Senator Abetz replied that “I think the studies, and I think they date back from the 1950s, assert that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer”.

When told that the AMA found such claims to be scientifically incorrect, the Senator and Cabinet Minister responded, “Well, there are other organisations that have differing views, as some of these speakers are clinical professors…”

The issue arose after it was revealed that Senator Abetz was due to host a lunch for Dr Lanfranchi and other people visiting Australia to attend a World Congress of Families conference on 30 August.

But Senator Abetz insisted that his views had been misrepresented.

In a statement, he said he had “studiously avoided” drawing any link between abortion and breast cancer during his interview.

“ was cut off before being able to acknowledge that Dr Angela Lanfranchi's views on this topic were not the accepted medical view," he said. “As I pointed out, I am associating myself with the Families conference – the broad aims of which I support. This does not mean that I endorse the views of every single speaker.”

But A/Professor Owler said he was “very concerned” that senior members of the Government were associating themselves with the Families conference.

“To have senior members of the Government associating themselves with this particular conference, but particularly pushing some of the discredited theories about linking abortion with breast cancer, the use of the oral contraceptive pill with things like domestic violence, that is very unhelpful, and I think quite an irresponsible position and action for those people in the Government to take,” he said.

The AMA President said he had raised his concerns directly with Health Minister Peter Dutton, and had been assured that the views expressed by Senator Abetz were not those of the Government.

Mr Dutton said he did not believe there was a link between abortion and breast cancer.

“I think the evidence needs to be the driver in this area, and it's clear there is no link,” the Minister said. But, he added, “it would be ridiculous to suggest that if you're going to a conference, you must align with every view that's expressed at that conference.”

A/Professor Owler said that while members of the Government were entitled to their views on abortion, they had a responsibility not to mislead the community.

“To try and use some sort of link between those topics and a medical condition I think is quite irresponsible for the member of the Government to be doing, and certainly unhelpful for people out there in the community that look towards leaders, including our politicians, to get the right sort of information and credible information,” he said.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 19 Aug 2014