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The ABC scientist

Joel Brind, chief academic proponent of the abortion–breast cancer link, isn’t shy about holding unpopular opinions

The ABC scientist

Brind in the endocrinology teaching lab at Baruch College (Marilynn K. Yee/Genesis)

It’s not typical in academia for a professor to attack entrenched campus orthodoxies, and those bold enough to do so are likely to have some quirks. That’s Joel Brind in a nutshell—and a nutshell is where some of his pro-abortion colleagues think he belongs.

Brind, a professor of biology and endocrinology at Baruch College in Manhattan, is not a typical Yale University graduate. Hailing from a liberal Jewish family in Queens, he is conservative and pro-life. He entered Yale as a 16-year-old in 1967 and remembers working on the student medic teams to wash protesters’ faces of tear gas in the intense campus clashes of those years. His contemporaries of that revolutionary “genre,” Brind said, “are still in control … and guys like me are very much in the minority.”

Brind, 65, has been a lone voice in the scientific community arguing that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. Pro-life groups have used his research in advertisements about the risks of abortion. Pro-life academics are a small minority, and those open about their position are even rarer.

Brind first turned that way while driving through a snowstorm in 1970 and listening to a tearful New York legislator opposing legalization of abortion in the state. He began working with pro-life groups in the late 1980s and in 1992 saw research in Science News about how pregnancy protects women from breast cancer. He remembered an earlier study that said the protective effect came from a full-term pregnancy, so he wrote a letter to the publication pointing out that the pregnancy must be full-term.

When Science News refused to print his letter, Brind thought the fix was in: “I realize abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, and this journal is covering it up. Somebody has to bring this out because a lot of women are being made sick and [will] die from this.”

Baruch had just granted Brind tenure, so he felt some freedom and became that “somebody.” In 1996 he published a review and meta-analysis—a summary of scientific reports from around the world—showing that abortion increased a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 30 percent. That amounts to about a 13 percent lifetime risk, since the overall risk among women is 10 percent.

The 30 percent increased risk factor, if accurate, is significant but not as severe as some other established cancer risks. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by at least 250 percent. But because of how widespread abortion is among women, a small increase in risk can lead to many breast cancer cases.

Here’s how Brind explains the risk: Pregnancy initiates hormonal changes that multiply breast cells. Later in pregnancy, those cells fully develop into milk factories. But an abortion halts that development, making the undeveloped cells vulnerable to cancer. Brind says miscarriages don’t have the same breast cancer risk, because pregnancies that miscarry typically have lower levels of hormones and end earlier in the pregnancy than the average abortion.

The central critique of Brind’s 1996 report and similar ones: They depend on women self-reporting their abortions to researchers. Critics argue that healthy women would underreport their abortions due to stigma, while those with cancer would freely share their abortion history in hopes of finding a cause for their cancer.

The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the World Health Organization, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists deny the abortion–breast cancer (ABC) link, but they also have various ties to the abortion industry.

Even some Christian medical groups don’t treat Brind’s ABC research as definitive. The pro-life Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) has never fully backed the ABC link, saying the link might exist but the evidence still is inconclusive, because studies have produced conflicting results.

Research supporting the ABC link has recently emerged from China, where both abortion and breast cancer are prevalent. A 2014 report showed a 44 percent increased risk of breast cancer after abortion in China—and the risk went up as women had more abortions. Abortion has less of a stigma in China, so ABC-link proponents said women in the study were more likely to report their abortions. The CMDA’s senior vice president, Gene Rudd, called the report “a very good piece of work,” but he said it wasn’t “the final answer.”

Brind is now researching the effects of inflammation, not the ABC link. He sees inflammation as the source of most health problems—“all it does is damage”—and anti-inflammatory amino acids as a cure-all. He is “not a big fan” of the peer-review process because he says it is politicized, so he self-publishes a lot of his inflammation articles online.

Every day Brind takes a dose of his own anti-inflammation supplement, Sweetamine, in his coffee. He hawks the supplement for the amino acid glycine online. Sweetamine, he says, or any other glycine supplement, can prevent cancer.

This isn’t the only slightly zany element to Brind. In the course of our conversation, he demonstrated his impression of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. “My greatest talent is mimicry,” he said. A few years ago he tried his hand at stand-up in a Manhattan comedy club. He calls himself a devout Christian, but he believes religions aren’t mutually exclusive, so he married his second (and current) wife in a Hindu ceremony.

Brind enjoys challenging orthodoxy, whether Christian orthodoxy or the pro-abortion bias in the medical community. At a campus event last year, Brind questioned a climate change documentarian about his data, causing deep offense.

“I do it just to see what’s going on and just to ask a little question here and there,” he said. “Poke people a little bit. And boy—what a hornets’ nest!”

Emily Belz

Emily Belz

Emily reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.