Komen and the Planned Parenthood Problem: A Tarnished Shade of Pink

By Chris Cronin

Elm Staff Writer

You’ve probably heard of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure campaign against breast cancer, or at least seen some of the ubiquitous pink merchandise it sells to raise money. The charity is large, well-known, and generously funded, and it has paid for a myriad of treatment and research ventures which have undoubtedly improved the lives of thousands of American women. Despite its size, Susan G. Komen has maintained a good reputation; the charity accountability group Charity Navigator gave the organization four out of four stars overall.

However, that reputation was tarnished last Tuesday. Less than a year ago, Susan G. Komen For the Cure hired a new vice president, Karen Handel. Handel had run for governor of Georgia in 2010 on an intensely anti-abortion platform, which, although unsuccessful, won the endorsement of Sarah Palin. As an extension of her anti-abortion platform, Handel campaigned against Planned Parenthood, writing on a campaign blog that she did not support their mission.

It should come as no surprise, then, that last week, the Susan G. Komen For the Cure campaign tried to pull all funding from Planned Parenthood centers. The Susan G. Komen grants, totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, were mainly intended for free breast screenings. In the past five years, Susan G. Komen grants paid for 170,000 breast exams. The simple fact that Susan G. Komen would pull money from an organization with a proven track record for helping women beat breast cancer is, at best, hard to accept.

But what is worse is that this was clearly a decision made for political reasons. The Huffington Post reported a Susan G. Komen insider as saying that Karen Handel was “the prime instigator of this effort.” To make matters worse, none of the money donated to Planned Parenthood was being used for abortions. While Komen is certainly allowed to hold a personal conviction against abortion, her decision to defund Planned Parenthood did nothing to actually stop abortions. Rather, it is an attack on the organization itself, which has been under fire from anti-abortion groups and congressional Republicans for years (including Sarah Palin).

Susan G. Komen For the Cure is no stranger to attacking other charities. In December 2010, the Huffington Post reported that the organization had filed a legal trademark opposition against over a hundred other charities, mainly small start-ups, that also used the words “for the cure,” such as Kites for the Cure and Surfing for the Cure. These legal fees add up to almost a million dollars per year in donor funds. But Susan G. Komen’s decision to attack another charity on political grounds is inexcusable.

Thankfully, many Americans agree, including 50 members of Congress and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Faced with a huge public backlash, the organization reversed its decision on this year’s Planned Parenthood grants, returning the money to the women that need it. Following this reversal, Karen Handel submitted her resignation, accusing Planned Parenthood of “vicious attacks” and claiming she had nothing to do with the decision, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

However, the founder of Susan G. Komen, Nancy Brinker, defended Handel’s decision and made no promise to renew those grants in the future. It is still possible that Susan G. Komen will try to quietly withdraw that funding next year. It’s time for Brinker to make a public promise that Susan G. Komen For the Cure will put the interests of women above short-term partisan wrangling. Until then, I’m not sure that Susan G. Komen deserves your money.

6 thoughts on “Komen and the Planned Parenthood Problem: A Tarnished Shade of Pink

  1. As an independent charitable organization, I don’t think the Susan G. Komen organization should be dictated to about where their funds go. Quite frankly, I have participated in many fund raisers and do not like my efforts going toward Planned Parenthood. The government telling us that we must fund Birth Control, next will be abortions and, what about Euthanasia ?? Will the Susan G. Komen organization fund these ????

    1. Those who think Komen shouldn’t care what people think about who gets their funding forget that Komen is a charity that relies on donations from people of all political persuasions. Nancy Brinker said as much in her 2010 book. She also said that the mission of Komen was to find a cure for breast cancer and to help women prevent, fight and live with breast cancer. Abortion politics wasn’t part of it.

      Komen has put up with attacks for many years from organized Catholic and non-Catholic anti-abortion groups. They had always explained that they did not take sides and that anyone who was in the fight against the disease was equally considered for funding. They did very well with that strategy that kept them from taking sides in fight that is usually ‘scrorched earth’.

      Nancy Brinker is a friend of the Bush family and in personal friends with both Laura and Barbara Bush. President Bush made her Ambassador to Hungary and she served in that post for three years. Even with those political connections, Nancy Komen had led the charity without leading into political firestorms. Ari Fleischer was asked to review or vet candidates for the VP of Public Policy. Bush’s former spokesman gave Handel a ringing endorsement. She got the job. They have now asked Ari to try and help them fix the public relations blunder into which Ari Fleischer led them.

      Komen is a charity, not a business. People do not have to give them money. Playing politics isn’t a successful strategy for getting donations. Komen ignored it’s workers in the local groups and went ahead with it’s political policy. It suffered for it. As it should have.

      Now some of Komen’s supporters act as if it’s too big to fail. It’s not. People can still organize locally as they always have, but regardless, there are consequences to your actions. Komen will pay them.

  2. Susan, a corporation is beholden to its stockholders. Similarly, a foundation is beholden to its donors. If the donors do not like the shift in policy that the foundation has taken, they are free to protest. That is what happened. No one is dictating to them; we are just telling them that we are unhappy with the policy decision. They still get to choose what to do, but must accept the consequences of that decision. Many donors will never be back.

    Over half the states in this country already require insurance companies to include birth control in formulary plans, when prescription drug coverage is offered. I really don’t understand why the recent hysteria has arisen since many of these laws have been on the books for years. Many of these were proposed and sponsored by bipartisan committees.

    Federal law prohibits using federal funds for abortion. See the Hyde Amendment. Euthanasia is illegal everywhere. Perhaps you are confusing this with assisted suicide? Also illegal in most places.

  3. I would not want my donations going to an abortion-proponent. I hope the grants are given to better causes in the future. Abortion is tragic.

  4. Excuse me? Stop trying to obfuscate the issue by claiming that Susan G Komen has some kind obligation to support your antiabortion political beliefs. They don’t. As an independent charitable organization, Susan G Komen has one simple mission to which it needs to adhere to – women’s health – specifically to provide funding for breast cancer research and breast cancer screenings. The fact that they caved in to the tea party right wing conservatives who have recently tried to take control of the foundation’s agenda is utterly deplorable and there are many of us out there who intended to make sure it doesn’t happen again – or withdraw our support. We’ll all be watching to see if they continue with their right wing conservative tea bagger support or finally get the message and stick to their agenda.

  5. I think I made it pretty clear in the article that while Planned Parenthood provides abortions to women who need them, not a cent of the Susan G. Komen grants were actually going to abortions. Rather, they were going towards free breast exams for women who needed them.

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