Federal minister Eric Abetz has been isolated by cabinet colleagues after referencing discredited research linking abortion procedures to the occurrence of breast cancer.
The government’s leader in the Senate has been criticised for the comments made on Network Ten’s The Project program while discussing his involvement in the World Congress of Families (WCF) event being held in Melbourne this month.
Asked if he agreed with a congress speaker who promoted a link between breast cancer and abortion, Senator Abetz said: “I think the studies, and I think they date back from the 1950s, assert that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had a conversation with Senator Abetz about the “so-called research”.
“He’s a little sheepish about it all and I don’t think you’ll find that kind of thing being said again,” he said on Friday.
Senator Abetz said he was misrepresented on the show and was cut off before he was able to acknowledge the views promoted by US surgeon Dr Angela Lanfranchi were not medically accepted.
However, a spokeswoman for The Project told AAP while some editing took place, it did not take the minister’s position out of context.
“(We) stand by the interview that was broadcast as an accurate and honest representation of the conversation that took place,” she said in a statement.
Panellist Mia Freedman – who interviewed Senator Abetz on the show – said he had been given four to five opportunities to dismiss the “sham scientific link”.
“He repeated himself several times,” she tweeted on Friday.
Told by Ms Freedman Dr Lanfranchi’s statements were scientifically incorrect and that the Australian Medical Association (AMA) agreed this was the case, Senator Abetz said: “Well, there are organisations that have differing views as some of these (congress) speakers are clinical professors …”.
Ms Freedman publishes the mamamia.com.au website which on Friday called on Liberal MPs to withdraw from the event, saying anyone who did attend would be tacitly condoning “hateful and false information” spread by the WFC.
Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton said it was clear there was no link between abortion and breast cancer.
“I think the evidence needs to be the driver in this area, and it’s clear there is no link,” he told reporters in Brisbane.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten denounced the link as “disgusting”, saying it had no place in modern society.
“I think it is repulsive, hurtful and ignorant,” he said in Melbourne.
The AMA said the link was unhelpful and insensitive and also called on senior government MPs to reconsider associating themselves with the congress event.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews is expected to give the opening address on August 30.
Senator Abetz will host a lunch at Parliament House in Canberra for Dr Lanfranchi and two other congress speakers.
Mr Dutton said he was unaware of the details but it would be “absurd” to assume the attendance of government members would amount to an endorsement of specific subjects.