US House Debates


The following is a preface to the U.S. House Debates. 

If you would like to view the debate in its entirety, click here.


On June 8, 1999 a debate led by Congressman Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-Ok.) on the abortion-breast cancer link erupted in the U.S. House of Representatives during which Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) called on the “abortion establishment” to “stop the cover-up” of the medical evidence. The Fiscal Year 2000 Agriculture Appropriations bill (HR 1906) was being considered, and Congressman Coburn offered an amendment prohibiting the Food and Drug Administration from using federal funds “for the testing, development or approval...of any drug for the chemical inducement of abortion,” including the RU 486 abortion pill.

While the Coburn Amendment did pass the House by a vote of 217-214 (official House roll call 173), the Clinton-Gore White House called it “unacceptable,” and there was insufficient support for the amendment in the Senate. It was, therefore, dropped in a House-Senate conference committee.

A Synopsis of the Debate 

Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), who supported the Coburn Amendment, argued during the debate:

“Some people believe it is in the best interests of women to make all forms of abortion available to women. However, even for those who support abortion on demand, approving RU 486 is shortsighted, and it is a risky approach. Scientific studies have shown a link between abortion and breast cancer. Unfortunately, many who commit abortions do not want to let women know about that risk. Breast cancer is the leading form of cancer among middle-age American women, but we do not even want to tell women who are considering abortion of this risk. Ten out of 11 studies on American women report an increased risk of breast cancer after having an induced abortion. A meta-analysis in which all worldwide data were combined reported that an induced abortion elevates a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 30 percent. How can we in good conscience approve new forms of abortion before we study the breast cancer and abortion link further and let women know of the risk?” 1

Opponents of the Coburn Amendment resorted to a variety of arguments to defend their cause. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York relied upon the Melbye study, also known as the Danish study, to justify her opposition. She contended that the Melbye study was definitive and that it had settled the issue concerning the abortion-breast cancer link. However, as Dr. Karin Michels of Harvard Medical School said, “[y]ou should never end a debate with one study and say this is the definitive study.” 2

Rep. Lowey quoted a New York Times article, saying that “No evidence exists to link induced abortion and breast cancer,” an amazing allegation considering the fact that there were 25 out of 31 worldwide studies available then which showed a connection between induced abortion and breast cancer, 17 of which were statistically significant. The truth is that the Melbye study contained misclassification and data adjustment errors, and it actually masked a statistically significant risk increase. 3 In addition, the study reported that “[w]ith each one-week increase in the gestational age of the fetus...there was a 3 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer.” 4 Moreover, Dr. Joel Brind, President of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, reported that he was able to plot Danish breast cancer cases and the abortion rate on a graph and found that they parallel one another. 5

Rep. Lowey expressed her concern for women’s health during the debate. She said that the Coburn Amendment should not be supported because it “puts ideology ahead of science and compromises women’s health.” 6 On the contrary, it is pro-abortion ideology which has been put ahead of science and the health of American women. Dr. Janet Daling, a breast cancer researcher from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and an abortion-supporter, had first hand experience with this. After publishing her study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and having an editorial appear in the same issue criticizing her study, she told a reporter, “I have three sisters with breast cancer and I resent people messing with the scientific data to further their own agenda, be they pro-choice or pro-life. I would have loved to have found no association between breast cancer and abortion, but our research is rock solid and our data is accurate.” 7

Rep. Lowey should be informed that all medical experts agree that it is healthier for married women not to postpone a first full-term pregnancy. Postponement of pregnancy causes women to forego the benefit gained from an increased protection against breast cancer. Dr. Brind states “...most known risks for breast cancer are characterized by some form of estrogen overexposure. For example, women who attain puberty at an early age, or who enter the menopause at a later age, or who have fewer or no children, are exposed to more surges of estradiol that come with more menstrual cycles. Women who breast feed their children also experience fewer menstrual cycles, thereby helping to lower their risk.” 8 If Rep. Lowey wants to protect the health of women, she should encourage women to have children, not to abort them. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut asserted that the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that there is insufficient evidence of a link between abortion and breast cancer, overlooking the fact that the NCI is currently being investigated by Congress under the leadership of Congressman Tom Bliley for misleading the public and “selectively releasing data” on the subject. 9 DeLauro also overlooked the fact that Dr. Daling’s study is the only published study commissioned by the National Cancer Institute, and it reported a 50 percent higher incidence of breast cancer among women who have experienced induced abortion, as compared to women who have experienced at least one pregnancy and have not undergone abortion. 10

Abortion supporters in the House tried to erect a smoke screen by asserting that the Coburn Amendment would impede medical research and that many drugs, which have the unintended effect of causing miscarriages, would not be funded as a result of this legislation. Rep. DeLauro insisted that:

“Quite frankly, this is a place where Congress has no right to be. We are not scientists. We do not know what is best for the health of American citizens. This amendment is intended to block research. It blocks not only drugs that are currently in the pipeline, but potential future breakthroughs in biomedical research. It is an attempt to promote an anti-choice agenda. I have respect for people who have a different view of this issue on choice than I do, but the proponents of this amendment are risking the lives of millions of Americans, because this amendment would also block the development of drugs to cure cancer, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy, and other medical conditions because some of those drugs can cause a spontaneous miscarriage.” 11

Rep. Tom Coburn, M.D. denied that his amendment would impede medical research on other drugs which have the unintended side effect of causing miscarriages. He said: 

“I heard from this floor statements exactly opposite of what I said was the intention of my amendment. I am deeply concerned that people would use untruth about what this intended amendment is....There is nothing, and it does not matter what the gentlewoman says, there is nothing in this amendment that will eliminate any cure for cancer, eliminate any process under which any drug can be studied for cancer, because the actual application that the Food and Drug uses, which is right here, it says, what is the purpose for the IND. And if the purpose is chemical inducement for abortion, then they cannot do it....So this amendment will not block Cytotech from being used in other medicines and in other ways. It will not block RU 486 if it has an intended purpose for giving life, saving life, prolonging life. It will not stop any utilization of FDA funds in terms of that effort. Its sole purpose is to say to the FDA none of their money should be used in a manner which will enhance the taking of unborn life.” 12

Rep. Dave Weldon, M.D. of Florida also took the floor in defense of the Coburn Amendment. He argued that pharmaceutical companies must identify a drug’s purpose when an application for drug approval is placed with the FDA. He contended that it was “disingenuous” for members of the House to claim that the Coburn Amendment would inhibit the development of drugs whose primary purposes are not abortifacient and which have the secondary effect of causing miscarriages. 

Rep. Weldon expressed his concern that the cancer research community was “turning a blind eye” to the research linking abortion and breast cancer. He singled out the National Cancer Institute for criticism and suggested that its statement on the available research, which appeared on the web, was “disingenuous.” In fact, Dr. Brind, who did a meta-analysis of all of the worldwide studies, has called the NCI’s statement an “outright lie” 13 because it said, “The scientific rationale for an association between abortion and breast cancer is based on limited experimental data in rats and is not consistent with human data.” 14 The statement has since been removed from the web. Rep. Weldon said on the floor of the House:

“I just want to touch on one additional issue that has come up in the course of this debate, and that is the reported possible link between abortion and breast cancer. My colleagues, I have reviewed the studies on this issue and the studies are very, very compelling that there really is a link. The statement released by the NCI, I believe, is a very disingenuous statement. It really sincerely ignores the facts on this issue. If my colleagues actually take the time to read the studies, it is very, very bothersome to me that there are a lot of people within the cancer research community that are turning a blind eye to this issue.” 15

Congressman Weldon wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter to every member of Congress on August 24, 1999 and called abortion “a procedure which poses a significant health risk to women” and “a health care time-bomb” (See his letter on this web site).

Congressman Coburn’s press releases can be read at:

Coburn Amendment to Block Approval of Drugs that Induce Abortion Passes House

Coburn Criticizes Agriculture Conferees for Opposing RU 486 Amendment.

  • 1. Congressional Record -- House; June 8, 1999, H3799.
  • 2. Karin B. Michels & Walter C. Willett, “Does Induced or Spontaneous Abortion Affect the Risk of Breast Cancer?” ; 7 Epidemiology 521, 521 (1996).
  • 3. Joel Brind & Vernon Chinchilli, Letter, “Induced Abortion and the Risk of Breast Cancer,” 336 New England Journal of Medicine, 1834-35, 1997.
  • 4. Mads Melbye et al., “Induced Abortion and Risk of Breast Cancer,” 336 New England Journal of Medicine, 81, 1997.
  • 5. “Abortion and Breast Cancer,” Transcript of the talk by Professor Joel Brind, Endeavour Forum Public Meeting, Malvern, Victoria, Australia, Aug. 24, 1999, p. 19-20.
  • 6. Id at H3800.
  • 7. Dr. Janet Daling to L. Daily News, by Joe Gelman, September 28, 1997.
  • 8. Joel Brind, Ph.D.,, “The Estrogen Connection.”
  • 9. “The State of Cancer Research,” Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on Health and Environment, July 20, 1998, p. 54-61.
  • 10. Janet R. Daling et al., “Risk of Breast Cancer Among Young Women: Relationship to Induced Abortion,” 86 J. National Cancer Institute, 1584 (1994).
  • 11. Id at H3799.
  • 12. Id at H3802.
  • 13. “Abortion and Breast Cancer,” Transcript of the talk by Professor Joel Brind, Endeavour Forum Public Meeting, Malvern, Victoria, Australia, Aug. 24, 1999, p. 20.
  • 14. Ibid, p. 20a.
  • 15. Id at .