Families Minister Kevin Andrews will not be withdrawing from the World Congress of Families conference in Melbourne, despite revelations that the hard-right Christian outfit is hosting talks by speakers peddling spurious theories linking abortion to breast cancer, presenting homosexuality as a disease, and pushing the line that condoms do not help in achieving safe sex.

Government leader in the Senate Eric Abetz was due to speak at a lunch for one of the key speakers at the conference, where Dr Angela Lanfranchi is also due to speak. However, the lunch has now been cancelled by organisers at the Endeavour Forum, who cited the illness and clashing engagements of some other guests as reasons for the cancellation. They did not comment on suggestions that the lunch had been cancelled at the government’s request.

The cancellation comes days after Abetz was publicly rebuked by the Prime Minister for suggesting that there may be a link between abortion and higher rates of breast cancer. Speaking on The Project, Abetz alluded to “studies from the 1950s” suggesting a link. These studies, conducted in Japan, showed no link, and the hypothesis was thoroughly tested and discredited in the 1980s and 1990s.

However, right-wing groups have continued to advance the abortion-breast cancer link, spurred by the work of medical researchers Joel Brind and his associate Lanfranchi. The pair split from the US National Cancer Institute, after it explicitly and decisively rejected the link.

Lanfranchi, who runs a cancer treatment clinic out of a New Jersey hospital system, has continued to advocate the link between abortion and breast cancer, relying on isolated studies that run counter to large meta-studies, which screen out response bias and other effects in small studies. Lanfranchi also notes on her website that she believes strongly in “complementary medicine”, the “mind-body” connection and “the power of prayer” to treat cancer.

Lanfranchi is also a major figure in “the pill kills” movement, an offshoot of the United States anti-abortion movement, which seeks to limit access to oral contraception on the basis of deaths from mass use of the pill. The group gained some traction in the US due to poor regulation of new medications in the privatised US system — particularly the rebranded oral contraceptive Yaz, which resulted in a number of legal class actions.

“The right of the WCF to run whatever conference they like is not in doubt. But a higher standard attaches to a government minister, especially when his portfolio covers matters of evidence-based medicine.”

Substantial research has found that the “combined” oral contraceptive slightly raises the risk of stroke and some cancers — but this is offset by a reduction in ovarian and endometrial cancer, for an overall reduced mortality rate. Lanfranchi was a major supporter of “the pill kills” day, held in the US on June 7 this year, and her website features a video address by her repeating a series of cherry-picked statistics and one-off medical events caused by the pill.

“Young women schooled in the idea that contraception should be used to prevent pregnancy at all cost learn to think of babies as the enemy that will destroy their lives,” the website reads.

“That fear of children that results from the contraceptive mentality, coupled with the abortifacient nature of the pill, is depopulating and destroying our society one child at a time.”

Other participants and sponsors include the Catch the Fire ministry, whose Danny Nalliah describes mosques (and Hindu and Buddhist temples) as “Satan’s strongholds”. A Catch The Fire minister, Daniel Scot, claimed that Muslims were responsible for 70% of the drugs in the West. Nalliah himself claims to have raised a girl from the dead by the power of prayer. Salt Shakers, the Melbourne-based group that continues to argue that condoms do not promote safe sex, will address the conference.

And one of the key guests will be Larry Jacobs, a co-founder of the World Congress of Families, who was also due to attend the Abtez lunch. Jacobs has become famous for his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he believes is “saving the world for Christianity” against a Western tide of homosexual liberation.

Kevin Andrews’ spokesperson Jan LeMaitre, confirmed that Andrews would be addressing the conference, and said that the minister believed, “This is a conference about families, therefore it relates to the minister’s portfolio. The choice of speakers is a matter for conference organisers.”

The right of the WCF and the Endeavour Forum hosting it to run whatever conference they like is not in doubt, nor of citizens to attend it. But a higher standard attaches to a government minister, especially when his portfolio covers matters of evidence-based medicine.

What sort of guests would a conference have to invite before government ministers did rule out the implicit support that attendance gives? If a group were advancing eugenic or racialist pseudo-science, would they attend? Anti-vaccination talks? The hypothesis that there is no HIV-AIDS link? The religious opinions on display are open for discussion — even if being in the same room as Catch The Fire is a funny way to promote harmony for “Team Australia”. But the endorsement of the pseudo-science peddled by Lanfranchi and others is simply another manifestation of the Right’s anti-science and anti-reason agenda. Andrews should withdraw, and if he does not, the Prime Minister should instruct him to.

*Additional research by Karen Palenzuela

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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