A documentary exploring the abortion industry’s determined reticence
Whenever she watched news reports about abortion, Punam Kumar Gill always felt an inexplicable tension. An award-winning filmmaker, she was well disciplined in approaching a subject with cool objectivity. Unless it had to do with abortion, that is, in which case she would feel threatened, as if she were being drawn into a fight. With abortion, her normally inquisitive nature would fly right out the window, and she would immediately take the pro-abortion side, tuning out the opposition. “Their tone is self-righteous,” she would tell herself, or “They obviously have a conservative agenda.” She would even dismiss them based on their religious jewelry if they were wearing any. Isn’t that what a champion of women’s rights should do?
But then, one day, she watched a report about sex-selective abortions. Justin Trudeau, the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, said he would not try to talk a woman out of having an abortion based on the sex of the child, and apparently no one outside the pro-life camp had any problem with that.
This she found very troubling. Millions of females are routinely aborted, the reporter had said, simply because they are female. And, as a Canadian citizen of Indian descent, she was especially disturbed to hear that this gendercide was prevalent in her own Indian culture. “If I as a woman and a feminist do not care about this horrific situation,” she thought, “then why would anyone else?”
This was not a matter of the legality of abortion, but as it was associated with abortion, no one would talk about it. Preconceived political partisanship was stifling dialogue. “Sure I’m pro-choice,” she continued, “but before that I’m a woman and a human being.”
Political stalemate or not, someone was going to have to break this unjust silence. Gill found a journalistic ally in Barbara Kay, a columnist with Canada’s National Post. In a 2013 editorial titled “Hard Truths About Abortion,” Kay had taken issue with the egregious failure of abortion providers to disclose to their clients known risks of induced abortion. She cited a recently published, peer-reviewed study out of China that not only supported the long-suppressed relationship between abortion and breast cancer, but also concluded that the risk actually rises with the number of abortions a woman has. Kay also mentioned a study from India that corroborated the link, which University of New York endocrinologist Dr. Joel Brind had said was “of the sort of magnitude that has typified the link between cigarettes and lung cancer.”
Adopting a stance of “pro-information,” Kay recommended the newly published study, Complications: Abortion’s Impact on Women (2013), by breast cancer surgeon Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, British history professor Dr. Ian Gentles, and Canadian psychologist Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy, noting that Complications, ten years in development, is “evidence-based, with most of its 650 footnotes leading to peer-reviewed academic research.”
Abortion potentially linked to breast cancer? Other risks concerned preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies and mental health problems. Gill had never had an abortion herself, but she had always believed it to be a safe and healthy medical procedure. What if it really did entail serious risks? What were women actually being told before consenting to one? And how were they doing afterwards? Even if there were only the possibility of heightened risks, shouldn’t women be informed about them?
Her investigative instincts took over, and she set out in search of the truth for the sake of women’s health. Her discoveries are detailed in Hush, a feature-length documentary she co-produced with pro-life filmmaker Joses Martin.
Abortion and breast cancer
She interviewed a variety of experts and encountered an even wider variety of opinions. Dr. Brind, whom Kay had cited, had done a meta-analysis of 23 studies in 1996 and found a 30% increase in breast cancer for women with abortion histories. Similar results have been found in other studies—“many dozens” of them, according to Dr. Gentles—but Brind’s results were being largely disregarded based on his pro-life standpoint.
Dr. David Grimes, for example, an OB/GYN and abortionist for over four decades, spoke with thinly veiled disdain. “The abortion-breast cancer link is an old dog that they keep on flogging,” he said. “There’s a small group of persons who hold these views. These people tend not to be physicians . . . and they also tend not to have any training in epidemiology.” Their common theme, he said, “is religiosity.”
“But,” Gill thought, “should the science be dismissed, simply on the grounds that the researcher might be ‘religious’?” Grimes was reflexively taking the pro-abortion side, just like she used to do. But no one seemed to be questioning his agenda, even though he was an abortionist.
In search of reliable information
Grimes claimed that his position was in line with all the major medical organizations, so that’s where she went next. Surely they would have up-to-date, objective information.
Then again, maybe not. One after another, she contacted them: The American Cancer Society. The Canadian Cancer Society. The National Cancer Institute. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London. The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and finally, the World Health Organization. But none of the organizations would speak to her. Not one. The case was closed, they all said. Everything she needed to know could be found on their websites. It was as if they were all working off the same script.
At this point, Gill started to feel suspicious, like she was getting into something deeper and darker than an ordinary scientific affair. If the jury was really in, as Dr. Grimes had insisted, why wouldn’t any of them speak to her about their findings?
At a loss, she followed their suggestions and visited their websites. They all traced their information to a single 2003 National Cancer Institute (NCI) conference, where it had been established, once and for all, that there was no link between abortion and breast cancer.
Everything seemed to come down to this one NCI conference. At this curious discovery, Gill tried once more to speak with someone at the NCI, but when she visited in person, she was swiftly escorted off the grounds by security. What was going on here?
National Cancer Institute: The intersection of politics and public health
At this point, Dr. Brind was able to shed more light. Prior to 2003, he said, the NCI position on the abortion-breast cancer link had been equivocal. Some studies showed a heightened risk; others didn’t, and the website made it clear that this was an open question. Then in late 2002, a new director was appointed and a letter delivered to his desk for signature. The letter, signed by twenty-eight Members of Congress, requested that the NCI website be updated to reflect what they held to be the scientifically accurate position: no link between abortion and breast cancer. And accordingly, the following February, the conference took place.
What exactly transpired at this conference? It was time to find out. Gill located the conference films online and meticulously went through them, frame by frame. She goes into some detail about what she found in the film, but suffice it here to say that a careful look raises troubling questions about who or what set the agenda for this seminal conference. Was it honest medical science? Or was it abortion politics?
Thirteen years later, despite the clear findings of more recent studies across the globe, the NCI position “ratified” at the 2003 conference remains unchanged. Meanwhile, breast cancer rates have risen by about a third in the US, and have nearly doubled in China, since 1980.
Abortion and preterm birth
Gill also examined the connection between abortion and preterm birth. Here, too, there seemed to be an unwritten conspiracy of silence, along with a corresponding complicity in the public health apparatus.
Neonatologist Dr. Martin Mc-Caffrey advocates for more awareness of the role of abortion in prematurity. In 2008, he was invited to serve as an expert panel member at the Surgeon General’s Conference on Preventing Preterm Birth, held by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he brought up the abortion-prematurity link and presented 122 articles as supportive evidence. But the conference co-chairs would not allow a discussion, even though the link has been demonstrated in more than 80 studies. “It seems there’s a real clear unwillingness to deal with the science on this,” he said.
One million preemies die each year. Those who survive are at greater risk of such lifelong disabilities as cerebral palsy, autism, mental handicap, lung disease, intestinal problems, as well as vision and hearing impairments. Dr. McCaffrey estimates that abortion accounts for 18% of very preterm births (birth at less than 32 weeks’ gestation), yet in all the informational material distributed to raise awareness of pre-maturity, there is no mention of abortion as a potential risk factor. Absolutely none.
Meanwhile, the rate of preterm births has doubled in the US, exacting untold emotional and financial costs on families and already strained health care resources. America now ranks sixth in the world for number of preterm births.
Abortion and mental health
Although research in this area will necessarily involve a measure of subjectivity, there is troubling evidence linking abortion to higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and other emotional and psychological maladies. Most alarming, post-abortive women commit or attempt suicide at a rate of 6–7 times higher than average, often on the anniversary of the abortion.
Dr. Patricia Coleman, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University, did a meta-analysis in 2011 and found an 81% increase in mental health problems for women who’d had an abortion. Gill spoke with other experts on the connection, but what was most moving on this point was the many women who spoke candidly about their experience, many of them still in obvious pain decades later. Indeed, some of the most vocal pro-life activists are post-abortive women who want to save others from the agony they have suffered.
“With so much attention focused on mental health today, shouldn’t this information be disclosed?” Gill asks. No, says Dr. Grimes, that would be “a very overt attempt to dissuade or discourage women from exercising their right to have an abortion.” Apparently women should be “trusted” with choice, but they should not be trusted with information that might unsettle the pro-abortion side.
The mechanisms explained
Hush also includes helpful explanations of the mechanisms by which abortion is believed to lead to these complications. The connection to preterm birth is straightforward. Surgical abortion requires the insertion of foreign instruments to pry open the tightly closed cervix, a strong muscle that can be permanently damaged by the forced opening. The proper medical term is “cervical incompetency.”
The ways in which abortion is thought to render breast tissue more vulnerable to cancer development is a bit more complex, but Gill and Martin have done an excellent job depicting it graphically and explaining it in layperson’s terms. And the relationship between abortion and mental health should be obvious to anyone with a working conscience.
Reviews and non-responses
Hush was released on July 1, 2016, and so far, most feedback has been positive. Many seem to grasp that it’s about accurate information.
The abortion industry has largely ignored Hush, and the NCI has done little better. The producers offered NCI personnel a free viewing with a cordial invitation to engage, but the NCI merely directed them back to its website, which still cites the 2003 conference. A second letter to the NCI received a terser response: “Staff workloads at NCI preclude a review of your film and the issues it raises, or a point-by-point response to your initial message.” Apparently it will be up to people of conscience to press the issue until the NCI can no longer stonewall its constituency.
Interestingly, although a few criticized Hush as anti-abortion conspiracy theorizing, no one has challenged its biological explanation of the abortion-breast cancer link— a paradox one might take as tacit acknowledgement that it makes sense and that there are legitimate grounds for inferring the cause-effect relationship.
Toward freer thought
At the very least, questions have been raised, and most of them remain to be answered. Having been raised a feminist, being pro-choice was deeply ingrained in Punam Gill’s identity.
She should be commended for pursuing truth over ideology, and Hush is clearly her attempt to confront the widespread cultural refusal to do likewise. She still identifies as pro-choice, but she is clearly troubled by what she’s discovered. And with good reason. Secularists champion open-mindedness and women’s health. But the irony she and the pro-choice side must come to terms with is this: The unyielding obstinacy and reckless abandonment of women’s well-being clearly reside on the pro-choice side.
We may do best to grant that side some space while they wrestle with Hush’s thorny questions. There is a battle underway, and their consciences may well be hearing the call of the pro-life side.
Visit Hushfilm.com to view online, host a screening, or purchase Hush on DVD.