Few organizations have done more for women's healththan both Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leading supporter of breast-cancer treatment and research, and Planned Parenthood, the country's top reproductive health care provider and advocate. To see the two organizations now at war is not only upsetting to many women's health supporters but all the more tragic because it's so unnecessary.
The most charitable interpretation of events would suggest that Komen was duped by anti-abortion advocates into cutting off support for breast exams at Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country. That is expected to cost the latter organization as much as $680,000 in grants annually and potentially deny cancer screening to hundreds if not thousands of clients at Planned Parenthood health centers.
"Duped" because Komen has indicated that the decision was the result of recently adopted standards that bar grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. And wouldn't you know it, but there's a trumped-up probe in Congress right now — Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns is looking into whether any federal dollars have been improperly spent on abortions.
The Stearns investigation is part of an all-out assault on Planned Parenthood by those who oppose a woman's right to choose. It's a conflict that's heated up in the past year with the Republican takeover of the House and the far right's unsuccessful effort to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood.
But it's also failed so far to produce one scintilla of evidence that Planned Parenthood has done anything wrong. Surely Mr. Stearns wouldn't be the first to launch an investigation for political purposes, but Komen may be the first one to fall for it hook, line and sinker — if, indeed, the organization is not a willing accomplice.
Planned Parenthood, which operates 800 health centers nationwide, has so far been charitable in its assessment of Komen's motivations. "We are alarmed and saddened that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation appears to have succumbed to political pressure," was the official statement from Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
But it also should be noted that Dallas-based Komen last year hired Karen C. Handel as senior vice president of public policy. Ms. Handel, who grew up in Upper Marlboro, served as Georgia secretary of state and ran for governor of that state as a staunchly pro-life candidate who opposed federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Has Komen adopted an anti-abortion stance, too? Given the obvious political motivations behind the Stearns investigation, it's hard not to see the decision as announcing that. According to Planned Parenthood, Komen is the first private organization to withdraw funding on the grounds of the congressional investigation. One can only assume that this outcome, if it stands, will motivate Congress to pursue all sorts of investigations against all sorts of controversial organizations.
That has to be greatly upsetting to many people who have participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Hunt Valley and elsewhere. Quite a few have probably written their share of checks to Planned Parenthood to not only support women's right to choose but basic family planning and cancer-screening services.
Incidentally, Ms. Richards has vowed to maintain Planned Parenthood's role as a leader in breast cancer screening. Each year, the organization's doctors and nurses provide nearly 750,000 screenings across the country. In order to continue to provide such services in poorly served rural communities, Planned Parenthood has set up an emergency fund to replace the Komen grants.
Writing a check to that fund would seem a good way for the public to respond to the Komen decision. But protesters should also let their views be known to Komen (ww5.komen.org) in hopes that the nonprofit will reverse its decision.
In recent years, Komen's pink ribbon has become an important symbol, not only because it supports the important work of breast cancer research but also because it represents the empowerment of women whose health concerns have not always been treated as a high priority. The work of Planned Parenthood in protecting women's reproductive rights and helping bring to an end the era of back-alley abortions strikes a similar chord for many Americans.
Breast cancer can strike anyone, including those who avail themselves of contraception. Shame on Komen for succumbing to pressure from anti-abortion groups and risking the health of the very women for whom they claim to advocate.