Roundup: Komen Story Keeps Changing As Outrage Grows and Group Becomes Increasingly Isolated

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Commentary Politics

Roundup: Komen Story Keeps Changing As Outrage Grows and Group Becomes Increasingly Isolated

Jodi Jacobson

It seems that the Susan G. Komen Foundation did not think very carefully when making the decision to cut off breast cancer prevention grants to Planned Parenthood clinics. And Komen is becoming increasingly isolated as outrage grows.

See all our coverage of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s break with Planned Parenthood here.

It seems that the Susan G. Komen Foundation did not think very carefully when making the decision to cut off breast cancer prevention grants to Planned Parenthood clinics.

The impetus for the break was first articulated in an official memo sent to all Komen state affiliates and quoted by us in our first story on the controversy.  The memo made clear that the long-running relationship between Komen and Planned Parenthood was being severed because the latter was “under investigation by federal and state authorities.”

A portion of the memo (a longer excerpt of which can be found at the link above) specifically states:

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“Currently, however, various authorities at both the state and federal levels are conducting investigations involving [Planned Parenthood] and some of its local chapters, and the organization is barred from receiving government funding in numerous states. Under these new criteria, Planned Parenthood will be ineligible to receive new funding from Komen until these investigations are complete and these issues are resolved.”

Putting aside the fact that Komen misrepresents both investigations and funding issues, it is pretty hard to confuse the message that Planned Parenthood is “ineligible to receive new funding until these investigations are complete.”

The political nature of this decision was at least implied by the affiliations of their Senior Vice President for Policy, Karen Handel, a strongly anti-chocie former gubernatorial candidate from Georiga, and of a member of their advocacy board, Jane Abraham, the General Chair of the Susan B. Anthony List.  Both of these women support virulently misogynistic anti-choice policies and have lied both about Planned Parenthood’s work as well as about non-existent links between abortion and breast cancer.

But the attack on Planned Parenthood also was made explicit by John D. Raffaelli, a Komen board member and Washington lobbyist, who told The New York Times on Wednesday that “Komen made the changes to its grant-making process specifically to end its relationship with Planned Parenthood. Mr. Raffaelli said that Komen had become increasingly worried that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, would damage Komen’s credibility with donors.”

Now, however, Komen is spinning wildly. On Wednesday, as the issue dominated news cycles, Komen claimed the decision was made “in the best interest of women.” (Don’t even ask me to try to explain that one.)  By Thursday, the story had changed again. In interviews, Komen President Elizabeth Thompson “told reporters that the funding decision was unrelated to the investigation into whether Planned Parenthood was illegally using federal funds to pay for abortions.”

Komen founder Nancy Brinker also said “the organization wants to support groups that directly provide breast health services, such as mammograms. She noted that Planned Parenthood was providing only mammogram referrals.”  There is only one hitch to this new explanation. You need a referral from a primary care provider to get a mammogram, a service that Planned Parenthood provides to low-income women for whom Planned Parenthood is their provider and not everyone needs a mammogram, but breast exams and breast health education–which Planned Parenthood also does with Komen funding–are essential aspects of primary care. 

Now Brinker is saying that the Komen money might be better spent elsewhere: “You have to be sure you are granting to the right people.”  The “right” people?

According to a report by John Tomasic, that might suggest Planned Parenthood should get more, not less, funding from Komen:

According to numbers made public by Komen this week, Komen gave Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains $125,000 last year, or 4.3 percent of the nearly $3 million Komen spent fighting breast cancer. Yet Planned Parenthood clinics here detected nearly 20 percent of all of the cases of breast cancer discovered through Denver Komen spending, which supports roughly 40 organizations operating clinics, shelters, hospices, research facilities and so on mostly across the northern Front Range but also in Summit, Park and Douglas Counties.

Given that Planned Parenthood clinics have been found to outperform other Brinker grantees in providing breast cancer exams and referrals, who would those “right” people be?

It is clear that a politically motivated decision made without regard to ethics or to the health and rights of women is now backfiring both politically and financially on the Komen Foundation and they don’t know where to turn.

Meanwhile, the controversy is not going away.  A letter signed by now 26 Senators is circulating urging Komen to reconsider its decision.  Komen’s top public health official quit over the decision, as did the head of the LA Chapter of Komen for the Cure, and now all seven California chapters of Komen for the Cure have revolted, telling the national office they will not abide by the decision. Affiliates in New England have also expressed their dismay at the decision.

And Dr. Kathy Plesser, a New York City radiologist and member of Komen’s scientific advisory board, said she would resign if Komen did not reverse its decision, according to the New York Times.

“I strongly believe women need access to care, particularly underserved women,” Dr. Plesser said. “My understanding is that by eliminating this funding, it will jeopardize the women served by Planned Parenthood in terms of breast care.”

The American Association of University Women has disinvited Komen to its National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL), an annual leadership event, now in its 27th year, attended by hundreds of college women from across the nation.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on the issue by condemning Komen and offering a matching grant to Planned Parenthood of $250,000. And both fundraising and other forms of support for Planned Parenthood as well as anger at Komen continue to dominate Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other forms of social media.

As I have said before, even if Komen now changes its decision, the principles, ethics, and mission of the organization are now in question.  As Raven Brooks has writes, by making this political decision without regard to women’s lives, “Komen for the Cure completely destroyed a brand 3 decades in the making. [They are] now a different organization with a different future (if they even have one), whether they like it or not.”