Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood Highlights Politics and Women’s Health


By Sharita Thomas, Staff Editor

Under pressure from a highly publicized backlash, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation reversed its position on defunding Planned Parenthood on Friday. The preceding Tuesday, Komen executives had released a statement notifying the public about its new policy that prohibited funding to organizations under government investigation and limited funding only to organizations that offer mammograms on site. Komen’s policy put Planned Parenthood—which only offers referrals for mammograms and is currently under congressional investigation for suspicion of using federal funds to perform abortions—in the middle of its crosshairs, igniting a battle over politics and women’s health.

Much of the backlash centers on what many believed to be a political move by Komen and not merely a move designed to place funds where they could most benefit women and the treatment of breast cancer. Planned Parenthood has previously vocalized its concern about House Republican’s efforts to defund the organization based on its family planning services. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest provider of abortions, and many believe the Komen foundation’s move was an effort to defund these abortions, which make up 3% of the organization’s services. The Komen foundation held that abortions had nothing to do with the decision, despite public doubt that pressure from pro-lifers was the main cause. Karen Handel, the Komen Foundation’s new vice president and former Sarah Palin-endorsed contender for governor of Georgia, had previously advocated for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

On Thursday, 26 Democratic senators issued a letter that urged Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker to rethink her “politically motivated” position. Some supporters of Komen’s decision felt that the opposition was not over concern with the loss of funding, but instead with what appeared to be the loss of respect and support from mainstream America for an organization that provides abortions. These supporters have cited the fact that Planned Parenthood made enough in recent donations to cover the loss of Komen grants as proof that the issue is about more than the ability to cover the loss of funds. Likewise, opponents of the Komen foundation’s initial decision argued that partisan politics had threatened access to needed cancer screening and abortion referrals, particularly for poor women who lack the primary care doctors that often provide such services.

After days of silence, the Komen foundation succumbed to protest and apologized for its initial decision to withdraw funding but left itself room to deny future grants to Planned Parenthood. Some now feel that the Komen Foundation has given in to pressure from the pro-choice mob, while others feel that a duty to donors was upheld. However, the larger results of this conflict for both the Komen foundation and for Planned Parenthood remain to be seen.

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