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Pregnancy Centers Found to Give False Information on Abortion

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 18, 2006; A08

Federally funded "pregnancy resource centers" are incorrectly telling women that abortion results in an increased risk of breast cancer, infertility and deep psychological trauma, a minority congressional report charged yesterday.

The report said that 20 of 23 federally funded centers contacted by staff investigators requesting information about an unintended pregnancy were told false or misleading information about the potential risks of an abortion.

The pregnancy resource centers, which are often affiliated with antiabortion religious groups, have received about $30 million in federal money since 2001, according to the report, requested by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). The report concluded that the exaggerations "may be effective in frightening pregnant teenagers and women and discouraging abortion. But it denies the teenagers and women vital health information, prevents them from making an informed decision, and is not an accepted public health practice."

A spokeswoman for one of the two large networks of pregnancy resource centers, Sterling-based Care Net, said that the report is "a routine attack on us that's nothing new."

Care Net's Molly Ford said the centers criticized by Waxman received federal grants for abstinence-only programs they conduct, but not for pregnancy counseling. "The funds are kept entirely separate," she said.

Ford said, however, that she agrees with pregnancy counselors who tell women that abortion may increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility and a condition described by antiabortion groups as "post-abortion syndrome."

"We have many studies that show significant medical problems associated with abortion," she said.

Those studies are at odds with mainstream medical opinion. An expert panel of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), for instance, concluded in 2003 that an "abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer." The experts said their conclusion was "well established" by the evidence.

The report, from the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee, found that counselors at eight of the centers told callers that abortion substantially increases the risk of breast cancer. Some counselors also said the psychological effects of abortion are severe and long-lasting, while research generally has found that severe stress reactions are no more common after an abortion than after giving birth.

President Bush has been an advocate for pregnancy resource centers and for abstinence-only sex education. Few of the pregnancy resource centers -- formerly called crisis pregnancy centers -- received any federal funding before 2001. Care Net's Ford said there are now about 2,000 centers in the United States and Canada.

Waxman has been a critic of many Bush administration women's health programs, including a 2002 reference on an NCI Web site suggesting that there was serious debate about whether abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. As a result, the NCI brought together experts to review existing data and came up with its conclusion that no abortion-breast cancer association exists. The statement was later deleted from the NCI Web site.

Last year, Waxman initiated a study of a government Web site intended to help parents and teenagers make "smart choices" about sexual activity. A team of medical experts who reviewed the Web site said it included inaccurate or misleading information that could alienate some families or prompt riskier behavior.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company