The inaugural Susan G. Komen breast cancer race scheduled for Ocean City in April was meant to be a feel-good event promoting a noble cause — and a way to boost tourism during the resort town's off-season.
Now uncertainty surrounds it and other Komen events in Maryland and beyond, as fallout continues from the national organization's recent decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood.
Ocean City officials and Komen Maryland organizers are still planning for a crowd of 3,000 for the race that raises money for breast cancer research. But as protests continue, and Komen's supporters come to its defense, only time will tell if the race will attract a crowd.
"We'll have to see how it all plays out," said Ocean City spokeswoman Donna Abbott.
Meanwhile, Komen Maryland said the national organization's decision does not affect the local affiliate, and asked for continued support among the state's residents.
On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin of Maryland joined nearly two dozen of their colleagues in urging the national Komen organization to reverse its decision. They pointed out in a letter to Komen CEO Nancy G. Brinker that Planned Parenthood provided 750,000 breast exams to women last year, the very cause that Komen supports.
"This troubling decision threatens to reduce access to necessary, life-saving services," they wrote in the letter.
Other critics took to Facebook pages of Komen and its affiliates to express their disappointment.
"I believe in supporting Planned Parenthood and I believe in supporting breast cancer awareness … however i will no longer be supporting Susan G. Komen," wrote one respondent on Komen Maryland's page. "I will give my money to a different organization where hopefully it will go to good use and not some 'political battle.'"
The growing backlash prompted Brinker to post a vigorous defense with a video on YouTube. "The scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful to so many of us who've put our heart, soul and lives into this organization," she said. "More importantly they are a dangerous distraction from the work that still remains to be done in ridding the world of breast cancer."
Brinker said Komen's decision on Planned Parenthood was not driven by political pressure and instead was reacting to a new policy against supporting organizations under investigation by federal, state or local authorities. The organization's decision came as congressional investigators look into whether nonprofit Planned Parenthood used federal money to fund abortions, which is illegal.
Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, said it has just about raised the $650,000 it lost from Komen, including $200,000 from an organization that is its biggest donor — CREDO. More than 250,000 members of CREDO signed a petition criticizing Komen.
"Don't throw Planned Parenthood under the bus!" the petition read. "Don't cave to anti-woman extremists and cut off funding for breast cancer screenings at the largest provider of health care for women."
Heather Morissette of Rockville has a history of breast cancer in her family and has supported breast cancer groups in the past. She was outraged when she learned about Komen's funding decision. She said she would never support Komen again, but hoped people would redirect their money not just to Planned Parenthood but to other organizations that support breast cancer research.
"I was boiling when I heard the news," she said.
Komen Maryland sought to separate itself from headquarters, saying that the decision to cut funding was a national one. Planned Parenthood Maryland has never requested funding from Komen Maryland, so nothing in the state would change.
"Everything is staying the same," said Komen Maryland spokeswoman Brittany Fowler.
Fowler said she hoped people would continue to support the local Komen chapter because the money helps women in this area. Komen Maryland provides $2.5 million in funding to 29 programs that provided services such as mammograms or meals to women undergoing breast cancer treatment.
ChristieLyn Diller, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Maryland, said the group paid for about 5,000 breast examinations in Maryland last year. About 15 percent of the services its provides are abortions. Nationally, about 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides are abortions.
Many people and groups defended Komen's decision.
Maryland Coalition for Life said Planned Parenthood pushes abortions on women.
"My mom is a breast cancer supporter and it has been tough for me to not be able to support Komen in the past," said Michael Martelli, executive director of Maryland Coalition For Life.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which has long declined to support Komen because it provides funding to Planned Parenthood, last month issued a position statement reaffirming that view. But now the organization will re-examine that position, archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said.
"[In the past] it has been about sending a consistent message," Caine said. "It was more of a statement about their involvement with Planned Parenthood and their tangential role in abortion then it was about breast cancer research, which we support."