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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Idaho

Anger trails Sali cancer comments

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – Breast cancer survivors gathered in a chilly Boise park on Monday to call on GOP congressional candidate Bill Sali to stop claiming there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer.

“To put this on top of you, this horrible idea that you must’ve had an abortion because you got breast cancer – that is totally unacceptable, the research isn’t there and this kind of statement should not be made,” said House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, herself a survivor of the disease.

Sali stuck to his position, however. “I’ve never claimed that I’m absolutely right,” he told The Spokesman-Review. “What I’ve said is I believe my position is true.”

An outspoken anti-abortion advocate, Sali said: “Obviously I would hope that women would be discouraged from having abortions if they know that there’s an increased risk, but clearly if we care about women we should want them to know about this elevated risk. What’s the damage of women being told some people think there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer? What does that hurt?”

Both the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reviewed the issue in 2003 and published their conclusions that there’s no link between abortion and breast cancer. The International Journal of Cancer published similar findings earlier this month, based on a study of women in nine countries.

Kris Troxel, an engineer from Nampa who’s a 10-year survivor of Stage 4 breast cancer, said it took her just two minutes to do a Google search on the Internet and turn up reputable studies showing there’s no link between abortion and breast cancer. “Two minutes – and he couldn’t take that time before he slandered all of us. I find that just despicable,” she said.

Sharon Van Slyke of Kuna said her treatment for breast cancer was a “grueling experience” that included a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “I get to save my breasts for now,” she said. “But I’m still sick – I’m sick of Bill Sali’s rhetoric, I’m sick of Bill Sali’s lies.”

Sali was adamant, and said seven states have required women seeking abortions to be informed of the alleged link. “Clearly this is not some weird idea that only Bill Sali thinks is true,” he said. “The folks who held the press conference today were essentially trying to silence one side of the debate.”

Jaquet said 12 percent of women today will get breast cancer, while 30 years ago it was just 5 percent of the population. She said she has a friend who just has been diagnosed with the disease who is only 35 and has two small children, and will likely lose both her breasts. Victims of the disease struggle to understand why it’s happening to them, she said. “You can understand the emotion that we feel with regard to someone accusing us of having had an abortion and therefore we got breast cancer.”

Sali said, “I’ve never said anything like that. For them to draw that inference is just unfair.”

But Jaquet said, “He’s scaring women who are trying to make very complicated decisions about abortions, and he denigrates those of us who are breast cancer survivors. … We think that is wrong.”

Sali said most studies he’s seen show a link. “All I’ve said is that studies show that there is a statistical link between abortion and breast cancer, an increased risk, and women before they have an abortion should be told. That’s what I believe.”

Marty Durand, executive director of the Idaho Women’s Network, said, “Breast cancer is a serious health concern for women. … We encourage women and their families to seek the facts.”

The women at the press conference have started an online petition objecting to Sali’s statements, saying in part: “We have suffered enough, having lived with this awful disease. We refuse to become a victim of anyone who, either through ignorance or willful misrepresentation, continues to perpetuate this falsehood.”

Sali said the petition appears to be an attempt to limit free speech by trying to “quash one side of a debate.”

Sali faces Democrat Larry Grant, two third-party candidates and an independent candidate in the race for North Idaho’s open seat in Congress. The election is next Tuesday.

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