Anti-abortion groups cite alleged cancer-abortion link to explain Komen's split with Planned Parenthood

As the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation faces accusations that it split with Planned Parenthood over political pressure, at least a couple pro-life groups are claiming the organization may have acted out of concern over an alleged link between abortion and breast cancer.

The theory that induced abortion increases the risk of breast cancer has been studied for decades and is a controversial one -- and one that is contested by major medical organizations.

Komen for the Cure's website states that despite debate over the subject, "research clearly shows no link between the two." Komen asserted that position as recently as October 2011 in a brief document on the debate.

As pro-choice organizations claim political pressure led to the decision to cut ties, Komen also claims it was merely following a new policy on grant recipients that is not unique to Planned Parenthood.

But considering Komen for the Cure's dedication to fighting breast cancer and raising breast cancer awareness, the under-the-radar theory on an abortion-cancer link was swiftly cited by some anti-abortion groups to explain why the organization may have cut ties to the nation's largest abortion provider.

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American Right to Life blasted out a statement Wednesday speculating that the purported link is the "real reason" Komen split with Planned Parenthood.

"The pro-life pressure on Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen is increasing," Lolita Hanks, president of American Right to Life, said in a statement.

Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, said she suspects the link -- as well as the prospect of donations drying up -- played a role in the decision.

"We know that Komen is working against their mission by not telling women the truth about the abortion-breast cancer link ... and by having this relationship with Planned Parenthood," she told

Other theories abound. Several reports have suggested that Komen's vice president, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel who was once endorsed by Sarah Palin, could be behind the move.

Komen for the Cure did not respond to a request for comment but organization founder Nancy Brinker released a video Wednesday evening in which she stood by the Planned Parenthood decision. The reason the group has given is that newly adopted rules prevented Komen grants to groups under investigation by law enforcement. Planned Parenthood is being investigated by Republican Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns in Congress.

Brinker said the new policies will affect "any number of long-standing partners," and claimed those policies have been "mischaracterized."

"We will never bow to political pressure. We will always stand firm in our goal to end breast cancer forever. We will never turn our backs on the women who need us the most," she said in the video. "The scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful to so many of us who have put our heart and soul and lives into this organization."

Brinker also said on a conference call Thursday that funding decisions are not based on "emotions or politics." With regard to Planned Parenthood, she said, "It was nothing they were doing wrong" that led to Komen's decision.

The group was pilloried by pro-choice supporters, including members of Congress, who described the move as a partisan decision. Twenty-six senators wrote to Komen on Thursday urging the organization to reconsider. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he would match up to $250,000 in donations to offset the funding cuts to Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood, which also did not return a request for comment from, said in a statement it was "alarmed and saddened" by the move, also charging that Komen "succumbed to political pressure." One Komen affiliate in Connecticut announced it would defy the national leadership and continue funding Planned Parenthood. Another top Komen official reportedly has resigned over the decision.

Neither Komen nor Planned Parenthood mentioned anything about the alleged breast cancer-abortion link in regard to the latest decision.

The theory is based on the idea that during pregnancy, the surge in hormones in a woman's body ends up making the breasts more susceptible to cancer as they increase in size. Completing a pregnancy, though, allows what are known as "lobules" in the breast to mature and become more cancer-resistant. According to the theory, having an induced abortion before this stage cuts that process short.

According to the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, dozens of studies have shown an association between the abortion and cancer. The group also cites statistics showing breast cancer on the rise among women since 1970 -- suggesting the 1973 legalization of abortion may have played a role.

American Right to Life cited a 2009 study that examined nearly 900 breast cancer cases and found induced abortion, among other factors, was "associated with an increased risk for breast cancer."

Cited by that study was another from 1994 that concluded the risk of breast cancer among women who had been pregnant at least once was 50 percent higher for those who had induced abortions.

The American Cancer Society, though, declares that scientific research has not found a "cause-and-effect relationship" between abortion and breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute is on the same page.

As with many medical theories, what one study establishes, another refutes.

The American Cancer Society cited a major study out of Denmark in the 1990s that it says found "no overall effect on the risk of breast cancer." Similar results were found by Harvard researchers in 2007 and by researchers in California in 2008.

"The public is not well-served by false alarms," the group says on its website. "At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer."

The group also notes that some studies can be skewed, because women with breast cancer may be more likely to report their abortion history than healthy women.

But Malec said some of the studies cited by ACS are flawed. And she claimed the concept behind the purported link just makes sense.

"It turns on light bulbs in people's heads," she said.

Planned Parenthood's funding cut: Does science support abortion-cancer link?