By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 10, 2013 - 0 Comments
Postmedia reports “more than 10,000.” The Globe says the RCMP said it was between 10,000 and 12,000. The Catholic Register says Mark Warawa said that organizers said it was more than 20,000. Lifesite says organizers said it was likely near 25,000 because last year’s count was 19,500 and this year’s crowd was bigger. But, according to the Toronto Sun’s report at the time, the RCMP pegged the 2012 crowd at 10,000.
Crowd estimates—especially when there aren’t at least some chairs to count—are dicey and this can all get a bit silly, but it’s still possible, using the lower estimate of the RCMP, that there were more people on the Hill this year than in recent years.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 16, 2012 at 12:31 PM - 0 Comments
Support for unrestricted abortion has apparently increased over the last eight months.
A Forum Research poll for the National Post recently asked 1,735 randomly selected Canadians 18 years of age or older when abortion should be legal. A full 60% of Canadians said always. That’s surprisingly high. Even more surprising: That number’s skyrocketed in recent months. In a similar Forum poll conducted last February, only 51% of Canadians took that position…
But why the blip? Forum president Lorne Bozinoff has a theory: “In the absence of anything else happening, it appears [Conservative] MP Stephen Woodworth’s attempt to re-open the abortion debate had the effect of hardening opinion in favour of legal abortion.”
In a recent print edition of the magazine, Charlie Gillis looked at how the anti-abortion movement is trying to shape its message. At a conference in Toronto last month, Mr. Woodworth explained it this way.
But Woodworth does not completely blame the failure on those MPs pre-occupied with abortion — pro-lifers are at fault too for not being able to adapt how they communicate their message. “If you simply go in with your truth and you fail to recognize the truths that others are concerned about, you won’t make that connection, you won’t develop that relationship and you won’t be listened to,” he said. “If you cannot convince someone that a child is a human being before birth you are not going to convince them about abortion.”
By Emma Teitel - Friday, November 2, 2012 at 6:04 PM - 0 Comments
It was hard to imagine at the height of Todd “legitimate rape” Akin’s mass pillorying, that the Missouri congressman would survive his senate race. The Republican establishment all but abandoned him, Romney asked him to step down, and even Ann Coulter called him a “selfish swine” for his annoyingly strong convictions. What his decision to remain in the race will do for Romney’s chances is unclear, though his name–and now, Richard Mourdock’s– is pretty much synonymous with the dreaded “War on Women.” Akin’s own chances at victory, however, aren’t as damaged by his bogus science as everybody thought they’d be.
According to a post on The Hill today,
“Akin went from a low of 38 per cent support in one poll, conducted in the days after his comments drew national scrutiny, to just a 2-percentage-point deficit in one independent poll released last weekend. One Republican internal poll has Akin and McCaskill tied.”
It’s also rumoured that a number of his old friends (the National Republican Senatorial Committee perhaps?) are slithering back just in time for the election, with some last minute millions. And the Missouri Republican Party recently helped him out with a $300,000+ ad buy:
See below, one of the weirdest campaign ads ever made (though not as weird as this one) in which a multicultural/multi-generational group of women gush about how much they love Todd Akin, and one of them, about how much grocery shopping sucks in communist Russia…
The United Colors of Todd Akin
If Akin does manage to win the race, the joke is on the Democrats: In August, the Washington Post argued that the Democratic party was instrumental in Akin’s Senate GOP Primary victory. The Dems assumed his opinions were so out there, that were he to win the primary, incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill would be a practical shoe-in for the Senate. So according to the Post, the Dems “spent $1.5 million trying to help Akin win his 3-way primary.” In other words, they created their own political version of the Producers. Apparently, they ran anti-Akin ads like the one described below, that deliberately made the candidate more appealing to conservative voters, and more likely to win the GOP primary in Missouri. From the Post:
“‘Todd Akin calls himself the true conservative, but is he too conservative?’ asks the narrator of the ad, which is approved by McCaskill’s campaign and paid for by the DSCC. The narrator goes on to note the negative posture Akin has taken toward President Obama, before concluding, ‘it’s no surprise Todd has been endorsed by the most conservative leaders in our country – Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee.’”
That’s not a mild attack ad. That’s a full on endorsement for Akin, which means that if he does in fact beat McCaskill next week, he’ll have some thanking to do across the aisle. And Planned Parenthood will at least in part have its own party to thank for the impending “War on Women”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 1:50 PM - 0 Comments
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was asked this morning about Maurice Vellacott’s awarding of two Diamond Jubilee medals to anti-abortion activists, one of whom is currently in prison. And now Mr. Vellacott’s office has sent out a news release.
Additional info regarding Vellacott’s Jubilee medals to human rights reformers Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons
Unlike the Justice Minister, Vellacott was unable to award these medals to the victims of crime, because these baby victims are dead, so instead the award to those “heroines of humanity” Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons who are trying to protect defenseless, voiceless human beings in the womb from butchery and death, and trying to let vulnerable women know that there are other options and support and adoption possibilities. It’s what you would expect in a caring compassionate society.
It’s a pretty upside down world when we honor abortionists like Henry Morgentaler for killing over 5000 babies and imprison precious women, like Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, who try to save babies from such savagery. They are the real heroes of humanity!
The citation on the certificate Mr. Vellacott gave to Mary Wagner along with the Diamond Jubilee medal read as follows: “Mary Wagner Your faithful battle for justice for pre-born children, with your willingness to suffer hardship and personal deprivation, is a source of strength and inspiration for many. May God richly bless your sacrifice for these most innocent victims.”
The citation on the certificate Mr. Vellacott gave to Linda Gibbons along with the Diamond Jubilee medal read as follows: “Your faithful, undying battle for justice for pre-born children – at great personal sacrifice – is a witness to all and a source of strength for many. May God richly bless your undying service for these most innocent victims and may your legacy never be forgotten.”
Maurice Vellacott said, “Like Martin Luther King and other human rights reformers, Mary is using civil disobedience to further a just cause. Peaceful civil disobedience is an appropriate method when trying to protect defenseless, voiceless human beings in the womb from butchery and death.”
Footnotes to the release point out that Mr. Morgentaler, who is a member of the Order of Canada, served time in prison.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott awarded two Diamond Jubilee medals to anti-abortion activists, one of whom is currently in prison.
Mary Wagner, 38, who has been repeatedly charged with mischief and violating court orders at abortion clinics, was nominated for the medal by Saskatchewan Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott. Another Jubilee medal went to Linda Gibbons, a Toronto grandmother who has been charged numerous times for breaching the court-ordered “bubble zones” around clinics. Vellacott likened the two women to U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr…
Wagner is being held at a correctional facility for women in Milton, Ont., pending her next court appearance on charges of violating the terms of her probation. She was arrested at a Toronto abortion clinic in August and is awaiting trial. Wagner was previously convicted of mischief and two counts of breaching probation for entering the Bloor Street West Village Women’s Clinic in November 2011 and approaching patients in the waiting room. At the time, she was on probation for a previous mischief charge and had been prohibited from coming within 200 metres of the clinic or contacting its staff.
LifeSiteNews.com’s report is here.
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 2:04 PM - 0 Comments
The Etch A Sketch is back in full force, only this time the interval between Mitt Romney’s abortion flip-flops is getting smaller and smaller–to the point at which it no longer exists at all. Romney’s official campaign website, for example, touts pro-life Mitt Romney, the kind of Romney who would like the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. All the while, moderate Mitt Romney gave this comment to the Des Moines Register yesterday: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
Except, of course, this one…
(from the Values page on his campaign site)
“Mitt believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view. But while the nation remains so divided, he believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade – a case of blatant judicial activism that took a decision that should be left to the people and placed it in the hands of unelected judges. With Roe overturned, states will be empowered through the democratic process to determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.
Mitt supports the Hyde Amendment, which broadly bars the use of federal funds for abortions. As president, he will end federal funding for abortion advocates like Planned Parenthood. He will protect the right of health care workers to follow their conscience in their work. And he will nominate judges who know the difference between personal opinion and the law.”
What this means then is that not only was Mitt pro-choice before he was pro-life, he is both pro-choice and pro-life at exactly the same time. Far out, man.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 11:37 AM - 0 Comments
The hot story in U.S. politics this week is a Republican Senate nominee’s folk belief, expressed in a television interview, that women rarely get pregnant from “legitimate rape”. Missouri Congressman Todd Akin told a TV interviewer:
First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
Akin’s use of the phrase “legitimate rape” is attracting a lot of catcalls; maybe he ought to have used Whoopi Goldberg’s famous formulation “rape rape” in order to be better understood. The funny thing is, if Akin meant “violent rape” when he referred to the “legitimate” kind, his weird legend is probably slightly higher on the ostensive believability scale than, say, “Organically grown vegetables are better for the environment”. It’s quite demonstrable that plenty of mammals undergo spontaneous abortion under stress; when it comes to sheep, rabbits, and rodents, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” is a 100% accurate statement.
Unfortunately for Akin, we belong to none of those species, and the evidence from medicine says that thousands upon thousands of human pregnancies result from rape. I don’t advise you to take it to the bank, but it may even be the case that rape is more likely than consensual sex to induce pregnancy in humans.
Everybody in the media thinks it is interesting that a Republican candidate got tripped up in being challenged on the abortion issue by means of a philosophical edge case. No one seems to take much notice of how big a deal we make of these cases themselves. It is fine that Akin got humiliated and may lose his political career, since a political campaign is, in part, an IQ test. He failed the test by letting it slip that he may think some species of sexual assault are less “legitimate” than others. He might as well have added a “heh heh heh” and waggled his eyebrows salaciously while he was at it.
In some contexts there are valid reasons to distinguish violent rape from other kinds, just as we distinguish murder from manslaughter. But the officiousness with which Akin is being belaboured is appropriate to our time in history: we have only lately blown up the methods of social control once used to protect women from non-consensual sex, and a few generations of men are having to have it drummed into them that sex without consent always has the essential nature of rape, whether you paid for dinner or not. This awkwardness is part of the price for the transition from an ancient social regime of patria potestas to one of ultra-individualism and contractual relationships.
Still, it’s interesting that we have made the poor little rape-baby so central to the debate over abortion—that this is the test we apply to men like Akin, even though Akin had already made his extreme pro-life position clear many times over. He thinks that abortion is wrong, and while rape is also wrong, two wrongs don’t make a right. This position has an attractive consistency when contrasted with the fudges some people come up with in confronting abortion. If you want to make an exception for rape because in that case the woman did not choose to get pregnant, will you make one for the broken condom and the forgotten birth-control pill? For a “natural family planning” calendar calculation gone awry? For a makeout session that gets out of hand?
To the degree that a “pro-life” position respects a woman’s choice, it becomes a “pro-choice” position very quickly in practice, as the “exceptions” naturally expand to cover nearly every conceivable situation in which a woman will want to seek an abortion. Women don’t get abortions because they’re laugh-a-minute thrill rides. They get them, and pardon me if I’ve buried the lede here, because they’re pregnant and they don’t want to be pregnant anymore.
The real function of the rape hypothetical is to force the Todd Akins of the world to make their premises explicit. The fertilized ovum being sacred, and having all the entitlements and endowments of a fully formed human being, its mother must inevitably be assigned the attributes of a heifer and made to carry the child to term at all hazards. (Indeed, her conduct could conceivably be policed to ensure that the fetus survives to term in good health.) The pain, inconvenience, danger, and expense to be experienced by the mere vessel count for nothing; the principle that the child’s existence is in no sense subservient or incomplete must be upheld, even if we never in any other way behave as though this principle were true, and even if no one really thought it was true until about 1965, and even if the implications are somewhat ridiculous.
That is the pro-life proposition, and the details of the child’s origin are ultimately tangential. But it’s not a coincidence that pro-lifers have, within their cultural cocoon, concocted a myth that deflects the rape issue—the edgiest of all the edge cases.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at 2:41 PM - 0 Comments
In a release headlined “MP Bev Oda’s resignation is good news for unborn children,” the pro-life Campaign Life Coalition celebrates Ms. Oda’s exit, blaming her for the decision last year to fund Planned Parenthood (the same decision spurred Brad Trost to speak out).
Campaign Life Coalition is pleased with the announced resignation of Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation. In 2010, Oda spoke against the stated decision of her leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, when he said that Canada would not pay for abortions in developing countries. She even pushed her agenda to get funding for International Planned Parenthood Federation (the largest promoter of abortion in the world) after the fact in 2011.
“She should have been asked to resign at that time,” said Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC). “Other ministers were removed for far less arrogance and disobedience. In addition to this, her scandalous misuse of taxpayers’ money shows very clearly that this Minister should have been removed years ago,” added Hughes.
“The Prime Minister claims to not have a hidden agenda on abortion but when it comes to pro-abortion ministers and their agendas he looks the other way, “ said Mary Ellen Douglas, National Organizer for CLC. “Oda has been notorious in her pro-abortion position.”
Campaign Life Coalition is asking supporters to write to the Prime Minister to urge him to appoint ministers who have a true concern for maternal and infant health both in the developing world and in Canada.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 4:06 PM - 0 Comments
Stephen Harper has apparently succeeded in angering both sides of the abortion debate.
“People who call themselves Christians need to take another look at what Christianity means to them and what it means to life,” Ms. Kearney said, standing with her friends under a light drizzle and cloudy skies. The Prime Minister calls himself a Christian, she said. “I’m not judging him because I don’t know the man. But, if you call yourself a Christian, then you should believe in life from conception.”
More on today’s rally from the CBC. Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s issued an invitation today to anyone who would like to contact him about his motion. He has also put together this video to explain his initiative.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 27, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The New Democrats have said they will unanimously oppose Stephen Woodworth’s motion—which, as private members’ business, would generally be considered a free vote—and Jeff Jedras argues that the Liberals should whip their vote.
If this issue is as fundamentally important as our messaging makes it out to be (and I believe it is), why are we not whipping this vote? If Harper not killing a private members bill is evidence he supports it, what does it say when the Liberal leadership lets its members vote for it? How are we any different? And worse, we’re launching petition drives and releasing pious press releases while pretending to be different. It’s ridiculous, and we’re setting ourselves up to look like hypocritical idiots.
As noted last night, the government’s chief whip spoke against Mr. Woodworth’s motion during the first hour of debate. During QP, the Prime Minister said it was “unfortunate” that the motion had reached the House floor. The NDP sent out a news release yesterday calling on the Prime Minister to prevent Conservative MPs from bringing forward initiatives related to abortion.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 7:39 PM - 0 Comments
Shortly before 5:30pm, Stephen Woodworth was on his feet from the back row. Close around him sat eight other Conservative MPs.
“Motion 312,” he said, “simply calls for a study of the evidence of when a child becomes a human being.”
He wondered aloud what opponents of his proposal had to fear. Staring directly at the dozen NDP MPs seated across the way he called on them to hear the evidence.
Fourteen spectators watched and listened from the south gallery. Four Liberals joined the New Democrats on the opposition side of the House. The Conservatives numbered somewhere in the neighbourhood of 24.
Mr. Woodworth spoke loudly and gesticulated dramatically, as if addressing the nation at a moment of great significance. He invoked rights and humanity and science and parliamentary duty and he damned a “dishonest law.” When he was done, a dozen Conservatives applauded. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
At 5:30pm this evening the House will hold an hour of debate on Stephen Woodworth’s proposal that a special committee be struck to study Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code. That portion of the Code states that “a child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not it has breathed; it has an independent circulation; or the navel string is severed.”
The motion will receive a second hour of debate before being voted on, but this evening might offer the first indications of who will be supporting Mr. Woodworth.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 12:30 PM - 0 Comments
If anything, the opportunity to stand up and say he is not interested in reopening the abortion issue may even help dispel fears that Harper possesses a “hidden agenda.” At the same time, allowing MPs to speak to these issues and propose initiatives could act as a release valve on pressure building within caucus or the party. Yaroslav Baran, a former Conservative strategist, recalls being asked about controlling MPs after a series of “off message” comments during the 2004 campaign. The answer, he said, was not to get better at silencing backbenchers. “It’s to get to the point,” he said, “where it doesn’t matter, in a political liability sense, what a backbencher thinks on an individual matter of social policy because the press gallery and the public understand the agenda comes from Harper. And this isn’t his agenda.” For the sake of comparison, consider that previous Liberal governments had pro-life and socially conservative MPs within their caucuses without being defined by them.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Why that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Harper
For the benefit of the reporters seated in front of him and the audience beyond the television cameras, Stephen Woodworth repeated his mantra several times. “Don’t accept any law,” he said, “that says some human beings are not human beings.”
The Conservative backbencher’s particular concern was Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which effectively states that a child does not become a human being until it has “completely proceeded” from its mother’s body. Shortly before Christmas, Woodworth announced his desire for a national conversation on the acceptability of this standard. And here, at a news conference this month, he was announcing a motion that would establish a special committee of Parliament for the purposes of studying this statute. “I’ve concluded that modern medical science will inform us that children are in reality human beings at some point before the moment of complete birth,” he explained.
Woodworth was loath to get ahead of himself—sticking mostly to the principle and the law in question—but one implication was fairly clear. If the law defining a human being is up for discussion, a conversation about abortion is almost certain to follow.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
In this week’s print edition, I write about Brad Trost, Stephen Woodworth, abortion and the Prime Minister. For that I sat down with Mr. Trost a couple weeks ago in his office. Here is a slightly abridged transcript of that conversation.
Q: I wanted to start with Mr. Woodworth today. What did you make of that?
A: Everyone, I think, in Ottawa, knows I’m a pro-life Member of Parliament. I don’t see how scientifically there’s any question about when human life begins. And politically I don’t understand why Canada is the only democracy that really has no legislation whatsoever. I mean, let’s face it, we’re more socially conservative than France and France has abortion legislation after 14 weeks. Sweden does, we’re more socially conservative than Sweden. I don’t get where the disconnect is on this one. People can agree to disagree. My board of directors, Conservatives in Saskatoon-Humboldt, they’re all over the board on this. By and large they’re mostly like-mind because my riding has a huge devout Catholic proportion. It’s like 42% Roman Catholic, and not like Quebec, they’re a fairly observant lot. So that’s reflected in the nature of my constituency and my voters, but my board of directors includes a couple pro-choice people and they respect and some of them tell me I’m doing a great job on a whole range of issues. So I think we can have a good dialogue on this and it wouldn’t be what I’d like, but I still can’t figure out why Canada can’t have some legislation like Sweden or France or Germany has. This puzzles me.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 6:53 AM - 0 Comments
I almost never disagree with Chris Selley. Indeed, I am almost willing to make it a rule not to disagree with Chris Selley. But his analysis yesterday of Brad Trost’s groping for more backbencher power in Parliament is uncharacteristically superficial. Selley celebrates Trost’s public ruminating over his inability to spurn the party whip on polarizing issues; wouldn’t it be nice, he asks, if we had a Conservative Party more like the eclectic, dissent-tolerating one in old Westminster? Perhaps it would be. But there is an awkward plain fact staring us in the face. Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at 8:53 AM - 0 Comments
Libertyville Abortion Demonstration: still my favourite YouTube video of all time. No scripted comedy will ever make me laugh as hard as the monkey-puzzle looks on the faces of anti-abortion protesters when the filmmaker hits them with the question “If abortions should be illegal, what punishment should be imposed on the women who have them?” Most if not all of the interviewees are experienced at making nuisances of themselves in the name of a grand moral cause; none, clearly, are similarly experienced at unassisted moral reflection. I will never understand how the interviewee who answers the question “It’s kinda between a woman and her God” and the one who says “I leave that to society to decide” managed not to blush to death. Most certainly they didn’t skulk off home and leave the patients of that clinic alone.
At Slate.com yesterday, William Saletan updated the comedy of the pro-life double standard with a dark twist, pointing out that the State of Virginia defines dilation-and-extraction abortions as felony infanticide but exempts from prosecution the women who order, pay for, and benefit from such procedures. The law in question was the work of Governor Bob McDonell, who has refused executive clemency to a condemned murderess in an analogous situation.
Although [Teresa] Lewis didn’t pull the trigger, the governor observed, she “paid for the firearms” and “intentionally left a rear door to their home unlocked” so that her co-conspirators could commit the murders. For this, she will die.
Like other conservatives, McDonnell believes that the taking of human life, even by proxy, must be gravely punished. And like other abortion opponents, he claims that the right to life “applies to every American—born and unborn.” Yet every day, thousands of women do to their fetuses what Lewis did to her stepson. They pay to get rid of an unwanted life, and they provide access to the victim. What punishment does McDonnell propose for these women? Absolutely nothing.
Saletan does not raise the question, as he might have, why abortionists should be charged with infanticide rather than homicide. Surely this rather blunts the “message” the law is intended to convey? Indeed, one might ask how, if gametes are entitled to the full protection of the law the moment they are joined, our noble Christian forefathers ever arrived at such a concept as “infanticide”, which introduces one of those odious distinctions between life and life.
The technical answer is that, in traditional Christian civilizations which happily hanged swine thieves and counterfeiters, experience taught the magistrates that babies were sometimes discarded or destroyed by frantic, unbalanced postpartum women seeking to conceal evidence of sexual misconduct. (History’s joke on pro-lifers is that the law, in a more theocratic era, was obviously more concerned with policing that “misconduct” than it was with the life of any infant—much less a fetus.) In such an environment, “pray for the poor distracted women rather than punishing them” was really a strong argument—much stronger than it could possibly be in our libertine, egalitarian age.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 17, 2010 at 11:47 AM - 154 Comments
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada apparently figures there are 124 “pro-choice” MPs and 120 “anti-abortion” MPs in the current Parliament, with 64 votes unaccounted for (a “pro-life” rally on Parliament Hill last week drew approximately 20 MPs). Though given the divergent views on the topic—as noted by Chris Selley—those titles might be overly simplified.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 2:26 PM - 80 Comments
Here’s the lede of a science story from Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press:
WINNIPEG — Depression and substance abuse plague about half of American women who reported having an abortion, according to a new University of Manitoba study.
The study, published in the current issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychology, suggests there’s an association between mental disorders and abortion…
Eager to investigate this shocking headline claim—the Edmonton Journal, picking up the story, literally gave it the headline “Depression or drug abuse found in half of women who aborted”—I set out to find the study. This presented something of a problem, since there has not been a “Canadian Journal of Psychology” since 1993. I spent a little while rifling through Canadian Psychology and the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology until a helpful reader on Twitter clued me in. Yes, you guessed it: it can be found in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. First place I should have looked, really.
That’s an understandable mistake. It’s a bit more of a problem that the first sentence of the article—an article that includes a warning from the lead author to the effect that it is “important the study is not misinterpreted”—is totally false. Because of, y’know, misinterpretation.
The paper, entitled “Associations Between Abortion, Mental Disorders, and Suicidal Behaviour in a Nationally Representative Sample”, does what it says on the tin: the data are taken from interviews with a demographically representative subset of the U.S.’s National Comorbidity Survey Replication project. It is hard to know what numbers the reporter added or multiplied or pulled out of a hat to reach the conclusion that “Depression and substance abuse plague about half of American women who reported having an abortion.” (I spoke to the lead author of the study, and she can’t figure it out either.) But a good guess would be that she looked at this section from the article’s main chart—
—and simply added together the estimated lifetime incidence of depression among women who had had an abortion (29.3%) and the lifetime incidence of substance-use disorders (24.6%). It will probably have occurred to you that there might be some overlap there between depression and substance abuse, which go together like poached eggs and hollandaise. You don’t need a Ph.D. to know that the depression group is likely to contain almost all of the women in the substance-abuse group.
And this naïve math (which is hardly attributable to a failure to grasp hyper-advanced statistics) is compounded by the wording of the offending sentence, which doesn’t say that “some percentage of abortion recipients have, at some point before or after getting an abortion, experienced depression or substance abuse or both.” It uses present tense, unjustifiably implying that all the women in question are plagued by both problems now.
This mess is already being picked up, “carelessly” garbled even further, and circulated around the globe by pro-lifers, despite the personal entreaties of the scientist who helped the newspaper with its reporting and the many, many methodological and interpretive caveats in the original study. This kind of thing is exactly why a lot of scientists hate talking to reporters. Nor does it make sincere research into therapeutic abortion any easier. The UM study can’t be used to attribute psychiatric morbidity to abortion, but it could be used by fair-minded pro-lifers (let’s assume for the sake of argument that there were some) to raise questions about abortion’s place in our society and argue for a research program.
Oh, I know: we’re a hundred years away from that kind of discussion being possible. But the inadvertent propagation of urban legends only pushes that day further into the future.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 2:24 PM - 105 Comments
The long-standing controversy over the link between therapeutic abortion and breast cancer found its way onto unexpected territory—the Globe and Mail website—on Friday. The pro-life movement has long been quarrying the epidemiological literature for the smoking gun of what it calls “ABC“. This is what pro-lifers ask Santa for Christmas, or wish for when they see a falling star: that abortion will turn out to carry previously unsuspected harms which might become the pretext for outlawing it completely, for imposing severe restrictions on it, or, at the very least, for stigmatizing it like tobacco and allowing clients to receive a scary mandatory lecture on cancer risk in the name of informed consent.
Thus far, science hasn’t been much help to them. ABC is a tricky topic because there are confounders in the picture: in general, spending less time pregnant (and more time menstruating) gives women a slightly greater lifetime risk of breast cancer. Abortion probably does increase breast cancer risk insofar as it eliminates one pregnancy—just as being able to drive increases one’s risk of ending up with shards of windshield glass under one’s eyelids.
Whether abortion imposes a distinct burden of cancer risk is another question, one much harder to answer. Occasionally a study will turn up that suggests it might. And that’s what has happened now. Gloria Galloway writes:
Three years ago, [Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott] helped to bring an American doctor and activist to Parliament Hill to tell Canadian women that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. It turned out that the doctor, Angela Lanfranchi, was speaking from a defined religious point of view that had little apparent basis in science.
And, at the time, the link between the procedure and the disease had been discounted by the National Cancer Institute in the United States, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (and their U.S. counterparts), as well as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Breast Cancer Network.
But a study released last fall (available here but only for a fee) by the respected Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle by a number of distinguished cancer experts including Louise Brinton, the chief of the Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, lists induced abortion as being “associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.” Background documents further suggest that it increases the risk of the disease by 40 per cent.
An e-mail to Dr. Brinton on Friday was returned by an Institute spokesman named Michael Miller who said: “NCI has no comment on this study. Our statement and other information on this issue can be found at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/ere.” …Requests for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy between that position and the information contained in the study released last spring went unanswered by NCI.
I visited the library to double-check whether Galloway had characterized the study’s findings correctly. The data behind the study come from a breast-cancer surveillance project in the Seattle area that included interviews with 897 women who had suffered invasive breast cancers before the age of 45. Here’s the part that’s the cause of all the excitement—a line in a table of odds ratios for “known and suspected risk factors among women 45 years of age and younger”:
The odds ratios were derived by adjusting for age, family history of breast cancer, lactation history, and duration of oral contraceptive use: the double dagger indicates that only women who had been pregnant at least once were included in the “never” row under the “Abortion” heading, so the statistically significant 40% apparent increase in background risk actually leaves never-pregnant women out of the background completely. This is notable, especially given that the study is population-based (the authors boast that it is the “largest of its kind”; their goal was not just to measure breast-cancer risk but to differentiate between etiologic subtypes of breast cancer).
On the other hand, it’s not that notable. If you look at the raw numbers, you’ll see that the randomized control group of 1,569 Seattle-area women with no history of breast cancer broke down between “Never [had an abortion] and “Ever” pretty much the same way that the breast-cancer victims did. Most of the “40%” extra risk, in other words, is the product of statistical adjustments, and may, in part, be attributable to confounding variables that weren’t controlled for. Income wasn’t controlled for, and as you can see in the table itself, it might make a difference; neither was obesity. And 40% is not a big number in epidemiology. In general researchers don’t get worked up about an odds ratio until it is at least 2.0, and it is seen over and over again in multiple studies.
Galloway is, frankly, not being careful enough when she describes the study as implying that abortion “increases the risk of the disease by 40 per cent.” This study is strictly about breast cancer in women under 45—a small fraction of all breast-cancer cases (though, to be sure, it is a fraction that is of special concern). In no way can it provide justification for any statement about overall lifetime breast-cancer risk.
Moreover, there is really no “discrepancy” between the NCI’s stated position on ABC and this particular study. Here’s what the NCI says officially:
The relationship between induced and spontaneous abortion and breast cancer risk has been the subject of extensive research beginning in the late 1950s. Until the mid-1990s, the evidence was inconsistent. Findings from some studies suggested there was no increase in risk of breast cancer among women who had had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggested there was an increased risk. Most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results. Only a small number of women were included in many of these studies, and for most, the data were collected only after breast cancer had been diagnosed, and women’s histories of miscarriage and abortion were based on their “self-report” rather than on their medical records. Since then, better-designed studies have been conducted. These newer studies examined large numbers of women, collected data before breast cancer was found, and gathered medical history information from medical records rather than simply from self-reports, thereby generating more reliable findings.
Although the new Seattle study is large and features randomized controls, it too is a retrospective, questionnaire-based study, reliant on self-reporting; it does not meet the gold standard for epidemiological evidence. The NCI has no reason I can see to change, or apologize for, its position.
By selley - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 2:40 PM - 3 Comments
Must-reads: …Jeffrey Simpson on Canada’s place in the world; Don Martin on neglecting Alberta;
Must-reads: Jeffrey Simpson on Canada’s place in the world; Don Martin on neglecting Alberta; Greg Weston on Stephen Harper’s RCMP detail; Dan Gardner on cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax; Rosie DiManno on Sarah Palin.
It’s the economy, Mr. Dion
To hell with carbon emissions, the pundits declare, as their stock portfolios emit a descending slide-whistle sound effect.
This campaign is quickly shaping up to be about the economy first and everything else last, Chantal Hébert writes in the Toronto Star. Thus, she argues—apparently in earnest—”if the Liberals were serious about reversing the tide of the election campaign,” they would rubbish the “original game plan,” send Bob Rae and the lingering stench of his term of Ontario premier back to Rosedale and “pull Paul Martin from obscurity.” Not the Paul Martin who’s the “failed prime minister,” you understand—he can stay retired—but the Paul Martin who’s “the most successful finance minister of his political generation.” We’re sure Canadians, and especially the opposition parties, would respect the distinction.
“Canadians now face the worst of worlds,” Thomas Walkom intones, also in the Star: “stubbornly high retail gas prices (bad for consumers); declining wholesale oil prices (bad for Alberta) and a dollar that, while falling against Asian and European currencies, is still high relative to its American counterpart (bad for Ontario).” And that’s before world financial markets go pear-shaped, he notes, which they may well in the near future. What we need in these uncertain times is “a government willing to use the levers of the state (including, but not limited to, deficit financing) to shelter Canadians from the destructive savagery of capitalism’s dark side,” Walkom concludes. Instead, we have Harper’s “blithe” approach, which is, he says, “singularly unnerving.”
The issue of whether to tax carbon and/or energy consumption and cut taxes elsewhere to compensate or to institute a cap-and-trade system “shouldn’t be cast as [a] left versus right” issue, Dan Gardner writes in the Ottawa Citizen, but rather, according to Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw, as “experts versus laypeople.” So why does Stephen Harper, with his master’s degree in economics, find himself amongst the latter? Politics, says Gardner—the same reason, incidentally, that Dion’s Green Shift exempts gasoline. The consumer foots the bill under either system, he explains, but carbon taxation is much more efficient at properly allocating the costs. The sole advantage of cap-and-trade schemes, meanwhile, is that gas stations don’t advertise the direct cost to the consumer on giant signposts.