A case in point is the question of the relation between abortion and crime. Two years ago the study "Legalized Abortion and Crime," by John Donohue of Stanford Law School and Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago, made headlines for months when it proposed a causal relationship between the legalization of abortion and the drop in crime levels in recent years.
Papers and magazines were full of articles debating this important "discovery." One example was an article in the Sept. 27, 1999, issue of Business Week, in which Robert J. Barro, a Harvard economics professor, solemnly concluded that the study was probably right and that it strengthened the position of "moderates" in favor of abortion rights.
But an evaluation of this theory, published May 15 by the Yale Law School and authored by John R. Lott Jr. and John Whitley, put in serious doubt any link between abortion and lower criminal rates.
Working Paper 254, as their evaluation was called, observed that while abortion may prevent the birth of "unwanted" children, who may have a higher probability of criminal behavior, some research suggests that legalizing abortion increases out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families, which in turn has a negative human impact and can foment conditions that lead to crime.
The working paper, in fact, says that evidence shows that legalizing abortion actually increased murder rates by about 0.5% to 7%. Moreover, the Yale evaluation found the earlier study had a serious methodological flaw, in that it did not directly link the cohorts who are committing crime with whether they had been born before or after abortion was legal.
Yet despite, or because of, the implications of the Yale report, most media ignored the story.
Also ignored have been stories linking abortion with breast cancer. One such story was revealed in an Aug. 16 press release by the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, stating that a lawsuit was filed in a San Diego court by three California women against Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The suit accuses Planned Parenthood of having misled women about the safety of abortion. The release notes that research published over nearly a half-century has linked the procedure with increased breast cancer risk.
In fact, the incidence of breast cancer among American women has climbed 40% in the years since the 1973 legalization of abortion. At the same time, the incidence of all other cancers has declined in the United States.
A study commissioned by the National Cancer Institute and conducted by Dr. Janet Daling and her colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center reported, "Among women who had been pregnant at least once, the risk of breast cancer in those who had experienced an induced abortion was 50% higher than among other women."
Again, the health findings, as well as the lawsuit against Planned Parenthood, garnered little attention from the mass media.
Hidden dangers of contraceptives
Also ignored by most media are the health risks posed by contraceptives.
In Britain, the Telegraph newspaper on July 20 reported that women taking newer, third-generation contraceptive pills are at an increased risk of potentially fatal blood clots. Researchers found that these pills almost doubled the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
The findings, published by the British Medical Journal, supported studies which have shown that deep vein thrombosis in users of third-generation pills was 25 cases per 100,000 women compared with 15 per 100,000 among users of older pills.
A few days later, a news release by Indiana University declared that birth control pills can have significant adverse effects on sexuality and mood in some women. According to a study by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, 61% of women who participated in the investigation reported adverse sexual, emotional and physical side effects.
The authors noted that, despite 40 years of use of the pill, there is no way of predicting which women are likely to experience adverse mood or sexuality effects from oral contraceptives, or which oral formulations are more likely to be responsible.
Not-so-safe sex counseling
Meanwhile, the June 16 issue of the British Medical Journal published the results of a study designed to determine the effectiveness of a safe-sex education in reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted infections among homosexual men. The 343 participants were divided into two groups, one of which received the counseling. The control group did not.
Twelve months later, 31% of the intervention group and 21% of the control group had at least one new infection diagnosed at the clinic. The study concluded that the counseling did not reduce the risk of acquiring a new sexually transmitted infection among these homosexual men. Similar findings have been reported in other trials, the article observed.
This article, too, failed to win much media attention. But it did find its way onto the Internet a reminder that, in this era of declining press readership, the mainstream media that ignore important health stories do so at their own risk.
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