Report: Women Mislead About Abortion Health Risks

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Women who consult with pregnancy resource centers often get misleading information about the health risks associated with having an abortion, according to a report issued Monday by Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee.

Congressional aides, posing as pregnant 17-year-olds, called 25 pregnancy centers that have received some federal funding over the past five years.

The aides were routinely told of increased risk for cancer, infertility and stress disorders, said the report, which was prepared for Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Only a small fraction of the more than 4,000 pregnancy clinics nationwide get any federal funding, mostly for promoting sexual abstinence.

With a few exceptions, the federal government doesn't give money specifically for the counseling operations, but Waxman's staff said 25 centers got "capacity building grants." Thus, Waxman said, they should be held accountable for the information they dispense.

Of the 25 centers called, two could not be reached. Eight told the caller that abortion leads to a greater risk of breast cancer, the report said.

Care Net, an umbrella group for evangelical pregnancy centers across the country, instructs its affiliates to tell callers there is a possibility that abortion can lead to greater risk of breast cancer, according to Molly Ford, an official with the organization. She said there have been several studies that say it does, and several that say it doesn't.

"I know the report is wanting to say that it's conclusive, but it isn't," Ford said.

None of the pregnancy centers the committee staff called was identified, and it could not be determined if any were linked to Care Net, which has helped about a quarter of the nation's pregnancy centers begin operations.

One pregnancy center told a congressional aide the risk of cancer after an abortion could be 80 percent higher, the report noted. Ford said she doubted a pregnancy center would go that far, but the Web site for a pregnancy center in Albuquerque says the risk for cancer after an abortion is 50 percent or greater.

In February 2003, a National Cancer Institute workshop concluded that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.

The report from the Democratic aides also said the pregnancy resource centers provided false information about the mental health effects of abortion, telling the aides that it could cause severe long-term emotional harm.

However, an American Psychological Association panel said, "Severe negative reactions are rare."

But Ford said that pregnancy center counselors don't need statistics to tell them that many women undergoing an abortion experience severe emotional trauma.

"This isn't about a medical statistic to us. We do post-abortion counseling every day," Ford said.

The Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services funds the abstinence programs overseen by some of the pregnancy centers. Aides referred questions about the report to Wade Horn, a Health and Human Services assistant secretary, who did not want to comment until he read the report.

Waxman said that Americans are divided on the issue of abortion, but no one should support misleading teenagers about basic medical facts.

"It's wrong to pour millions of federal dollars into organizations that are providing false health information to vulnerable teenagers," Waxman said.