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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 170

Mr Murphy asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 7 September 2005:

(1)   What is his department’s analysis of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute’s (BCPI) Fact Sheet titled ‘Abortion and Breast Cancer re: “collaborative reanalysis of data”‘ and, in particular, its assertions that the study published in The Lancet on 25 March 2004 is not reliable because many studies showing a link between induced abortion and the risk of subsequent breast cancer (ABC link) were inappropriately excluded.

(2)   Has he read the BCPI’s Bulletin titled ‘UNFPA scientists caught!’ dated March 2000.

(3)   What is his department’s analysis of the BCPI finding that the 2000 World Health Organization (WHO) Factsheet issued in June 2000, which states that results from epidemiological studies are reassuring in that they show no consistent effect of first trimester induced abortion upon a woman’s risk of breast cancer later in life, is discredited because: (a) the data upon which the conclusions are based are unreliable and have subsequently been shown to have been tampered with before conclusions were made; (b) the WHO Group used improper statistical methods; (c) the WHO Group has produced misleading results; and (d) the prominent epidemiologist Olav Meirik of the UNDP/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training Human Reproduction in Geneva, was exposed in 1998 for publishing false findings in the relationship between abortion and breast cancer in 1990.

(4)   Will he direct his department to review its advice to indicate that there is a scientifically established causal link between abortion and the subsequent risk of breast cancer.

(5)   Will he call upon BreastScreen Australia and Assessment Services to undertake a study of the possible relationship between reproductive history and breast cancer to test the findings of the BCPI 2004 Fact Sheet and the March 2000 BCPI Bulletin; if so, when; if not, why not.

(6)   Will he implement an Australian Government accreditation process for counselling women who are considering the termination of a pregnancy which includes information on the ABC link; if so, when; if not, why not.

Mr Abbott (Minister for Health and Ageing) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   My department has advised that the BCPI Fact Sheet is a non-peer reviewed publication which adds to, but does not resolve, the continuing debate within scientific circles about the evidence for a link between abortion and breast cancer. The department has noted that the Lancet paper that is the subject of the BCPI critique was the result of collaborative work by a group of eminent researchers in the field, whose epidemiological methodology has been subjected to a peer review process.

(2)   I have been provided with a copy of the article.

(3)   My department has advised that it has been unable to substantiate the claim in the BCPI Bulletin that the position taken by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its Fact Sheet issued in June 2000 has been discredited. WHO bases its public information on the best available evidence, which it keeps under review. Since 2000, WHO has not altered its position that studies show no consistent effect of first trimester induced abortion upon a woman’s risk of breast cancer later in life. The WHO position is in keeping with other bodies which also keep the evidence under review.

(4)   There is insufficient evidence to do so.

(5)   BreastScreen Australia has been established jointly by all Australian governments to provide biennial screening mammography for eligible women. There have been calls in the past to use BreastScreen Australia Screening and Assessment Services to study a possible relationship between reproductive history and breast cancer. These proposals were considered and rejected by the then National Advisory Committee to BreastScreen Australia at its meeting of 1 June 2000.

(6)   The Department of Health and Ageing does not have a direct role in accrediting counselling services. Standard setting is a matter for professional counselling bodies to address.