Letter published in the May 3, 2010, issue of The Nation.


The Jury Is In

New York City

I was shocked to read Sharon Long’s letter in your April 5 issue claiming that "the jury is still out on whether there is an abortion-breast cancer link" and pointing to a 2005 review of some old studies in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. The American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health, relying on more recent studies, have been at pains to refute this alleged link, yet the rumors continue to circulate on antiabortion websites.

Author, feminist, activist



Portland, Ore.

I was unfamiliar with the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons and looked it up. It is not a peer-reviewed journal of research, and the articles I read were not objective appraisals of medical literature. In the early studies examining the risk of breast cancer associated with abortions, there was a major problem, "recall bias"; women who develop breast cancer are more likely to reveal their history of induced abortion than are healthy women. Studies that avoided recall bias (by deriving data from national registries instead of personal interviews) found the risk of breast cancer identical in women with and without induced abortions. More recent studies failed to link breast cancer with either induced or spontaneous abortions. Studies published in 2006, ’07 and ’08, including the Nurses’ Health Study, also reported no association between breast cancer and induced or spontaneous abortions. The jury is not still out.

Professor emeritus, obstetrics and gynecology
Oregon Health & Science University



Amnesty International in the Cross Hairs

New York City

It is a serious mistake to conflate British Islamists with US solidarity movements of the ’70s and ’80s, as D.D. Guttenplan and Maria Margaronis do in "Who Speaks for Human Rights?" [April 5]. Today’s global jihad has neither the same methods nor the same objectives as national liberation struggles of an earlier period, even if organizations like Cageprisoners appropriate the language of those struggles. This is addressed in a global petition supporting Gita Sahgal’s concerns (see human-rights-for-all.org).

Organizations including AWID, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, MADRE, the Urgent Action Fund and Women Living Under Muslim Laws have endorsed this petition, which has signatures from 1,600-plus people, including Rhonda Copelon, Jodie Evans, Dr. Nawal el-Saadawi, Amitav Ghosh, Malalai Joya, Martha Nussbaum, Ros Petchesky and Salman Rushdie.

The issue is whether the human rights of a woman in Afghanistan are as important as those of a man imprisoned in Guantánamo. Nobody is saying Amnesty International was wrong to defend Moazzam Begg’s rights–that is a red herring. Defending his rights is different from getting into bed with his organization by arranging European speaking tours, taking him to Downing Street and describing Cageprisoners as human rights defenders. Long experience has taught us that women’s rights are the first to be sacrificed by those who want to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

President, Women’s WORLD





Comparison is not the same as conflation, or indeed inflation, which is Meredith Tax’s method in this letter. We did not say that "global jihad" resembles the solidarity movements of the ’70s and ’80s; we said that young British Muslims’ "sense of moral rectitude" would be familiar to veterans of those movements. Nor did we imply that the human rights of a man in Guantánamo are more important than those of a woman in Afghanistan, or claim that anyone has said Amnesty was wrong to defend Moazzam Begg. We did argue that everyone has the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty; we also believe that using guilt by association to blacklist someone is shameful. Without those two principles the concept of human rights becomes a travesty, regardless of how many famous people sign petitions.

Amnesty has not got "into bed" with Cageprisoners. Giving Begg a platform from which to speak on Guantánamo does not prevent the organization from campaigning against the abuse of women (or men) by the Taliban and other Islamic regimes. Both the hare and the hounds (if that’s what they are) have rights that need defending.

There is certainly a serious conversation to be had about women and fundamentalism, religion and human rights, and the integration of Europe’s 20 million Muslims. An ad hominem attack on a former Guantánamo detainee is not the way to launch it; righteous indignation, however satisfying, is not conducive to clear thought or dialogue.




Nix Next Texas Texts


Re Eric Foner’s "Twisting History in Texas" [April 5]: Governor Rick Perry argues that only Texans should decide what children here learn. Yep, we Texans are doing just fine with no outside help. Why, almost half our students graduate from high school! Our state board of ed is making sure our youngsters don’t learn about Thurgood Marshall or Cesar Chavez but do learn about Phyllis Schlafly, the NRA and the Moral Majority. Thank God the board also voted to require a more positive portrayal of Joseph McCarthy’s crusade against Godless Communists. I understand the governor, if the Lord blesses his re-election, is preparing a Bible study course on Jesus’ support of the death penalty. That man will go to the ends of the flat earth to educate our kids.

Dallas Teacher of the Year, 1997-98



Henderson, Nev.

Does anyone have an estimate on the cost to build a wall around Texas?




Austin, Tex.

Complaining about the backwardness of the state that gave America Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins and LBJ is tempting, but it’s more useful to participate in the electoral process. In 2008 most of the board’s worst incumbents had no opponents. The extremists control the board because they always run, always get out the vote and always fund their candidates.

Fixing the Texas Board of Education just requires some effort and money. If Rebecca Bell-Metereau (voterebecca.com) and Judy Jennings (votejudyjennings.com) win election, the anti-education faction will be in a minority on the board. The districts are huge and gerrymandered, but they are winnable.




San Marcos, Tex.

I am running for the Texas State Board of Education, in District 5. All of us must view our public education system as a treasure we must guard and nurture carefully, whether or not we have children in public school. My husband and I sent our two daughters to public school, and we volunteered our time to help improve the quality of education for our daughters and for other people’s children as well.

I teach at a public university, and I have witnessed the recent deterioration of my students’ preparedness for higher education. They have suffered under a relentless regime of preparing for tests, meanwhile failing to develop critical or creative thinking skills. The Texas Board of Education can turn this trend around if we elect reasonable people in Districts 3, 5 and 10. Texas textbooks’ influence is huge. The curriculum and books in Texas must provide the best education we can offer in the twenty-first century.


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