Minnesota Right to Know Information Draws Further Criticism
by Paul Nowak
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
December 22, 2003
St. Paul, MN (LifeNews.com) — The Minnesota Department of Health is again under fire for the language it uses on its website about scientific research regarding an abortion and breast cancer link and when the unborn child first experiences pain. This time, the Minnesota Medical Association is criticizing Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach and Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Dr. Robert Meiches, head of the MMA, said the statements, while not exactly inaccurate, are misleading and confusing to women. He expressed his concerns that the statements "threaten to erode the department’s credibility and fail to provide women with the information they need to make an informed decision about abortion," in a letter dated December 9, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune.
Regarding a possible abortion-breast cancer link, the Minnesota Department of Health’s "Woman’s Right to Know Handbook" states, "Findings from some studies suggest there is an increased risk of breast cancer among women who had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggest there is no increased risk. This issue may need further study."
As to when a child first feels pain, the site simply states, "Some experts have concluded the unborn child feels physical pain after 20 weeks gestation."
The misleading nature of the language on the Department of Health’s website, according to Dr. Meiches’ letter, is due to the assumed equal reliability of all studies done on the topic.
"The information on the Web site may not be inaccurate, but it is an overly simplified response to a very difficult question," the letter said.
Opponents, now including the MN Medical Association, feel that the statements that frankly admit the conflicting results of research to date are designed to frighten women considering abortion.
"We are not taking an inaccurate position," Mandernach said in an interview, pointing to conflicting studies.
However, a number of medical organizations say women should be told of the abortion-breast cancer risks.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the National Physicians Center for Family Resources, Catholic Medical Association, American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Polycarp Research Institute, and the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute have all acknowledged that there is a link between abortion and an increased risk to develop breast cancer.
Abortion advocates point to the National Cancer Institute as the leading source for information, though it solely cites studies that did not find a link.
Meanwhile, the department is plagued with some staff members who are failing to follow Mandernach or Pawlenty.
Mary Manning, the MN Health Department’s director of health promotion and chronic diseases, cited NCI when she emailed her staff to tell callers that there was no abortion-breast cancer link, despite the conflicting studies and the Department’s website.
As to when pain is first experienced, scientists know little, but some believe it occurs as early as 20 weeks, and others believe 26 weeks.
On Thursday, state Sen. John Marty (D-Roseville), asked Mandernach to remove the language or resign as commissioner, to which Mandernach said she has no plans to do either.
Pro-life groups say the department ought to follow the will of the legislature.
"On many different issues, such as the link between breast cancer and abortion, fetal pain and others, there were specific votes taken by the legislature," Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, told LifeNews.com. "We find it interesting that now, after the information is being provided, it is being criticized by the same people who opposed any information being afforded to the women."
"Not only did they object to the current language, the objected to any information to empower the woman," Fischbach added.
The web site and the pamphlet were developed by the Health Department to comply with a new "Right to Know" law requiring the department to publish information about abortion risks and abortion alternatives for women considering abortion.
Similar laws in other states have reduced the abortion rate by as much as one-third.
"The bottom line on all of this is that the [Women’s Right to Know] law itself clearly states that all information given to the women must be medically accurate and scientifically correct," said Fischbach. "This requirement is being followed."
Related Links: Minnesota Women’s Right to Know site – https://www.health.state.mn.us/wrtk/handbook.html