Politics for the Cure?

6 Feb

By Abby Finkelman. Originally published in the Saint Rose Chronicle, February 7, 2012.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the organization behind the Race for the Cure. They also partner with corporations to put their pink ribbon on on everything from yogurt to handguns. Planned Parenthood is an organization which provides, among other things free and low-cost breast cancer screenings, OB-GYN care, STI testing and treatment, counseling, vasectomies, and sexual education. Oh, and abortions. Abortions comprise approximately 3% of what Planned Parenthood does.

Until January 31st, Komen gave grants to Planned Parenthood. The money paid for breast exams and mammograms for woman who would otherwise not have been able to afford them. Planned Parenthood conducts over half a million breast exams each year. They catch breast cancer. They enable (and help) women to get treatment. They save lives.

The money that Planned Parenthood was receiving from Komen was designated for breast health. It was not used for any other purpose. Don’t believe me? “Affiliate funding to Planned Parenthood is reviewed twice-yearly to ensure that it is being used only for breast health services. If reviews showed the funds being used for any other purpose, the funds would be withdrawn. Komen does NOT fund abortions.”

That’s from a letter on the Susan G. Komen website in June, 2011. The letter is no longer there. Yes, as recently as June the Komen Foundation was defending its association with Planned Parenthood. So what changed? That depends on who you ask. If you ask Komen, they’ll tell you that it’s because of a rule they have where they don’t fund organizations under Congressional inquiry. Except, there are a couple of problems with that reasoning.

Planned Parenthood is already subject to regular checks by the government to ensure it’s not misusing funds; this new inquiry is being run by a hardcore Republican. Other members of the House have criticized him for wasting time and money, because the investigation is pointless and politically-motivated.

The inquiry started several months before Komen issued the statement. This “rule” is new. And, according to board members who have spoken out, it was enacted solely to target Planned Parenthood. Indeed, Komen is continuing to give money (to the tune of $7.5 million) to Penn State, which is, guess what, under Congressional investigation. And for reasons to which I don’t think anybody objects.

Not convinced that this is political? This all started not long after Karen Handel was appointed senior vice president of public policy at Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Karen Handel is a former Georgia Secretary of State. She also ran for governor in Georgia in 2010. Her campaign website included the following: “First, let me be clear, since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood…Since grants like these are from the state I’ll eliminate them as your next Governor.” In other words, she ran on a promise of eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood. Sound familiar?

Recap! Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure, which had previously been heavily criticized for trademarking “for the cure” and taking legal action to stop other nonprofits from using the phrase, as well as for “pinkwashing,” or partnering with, and “pinking” companies whose products may contribute to causing cancer (also, handguns, which definitely cause death), while not even raising money very effectively, pulled its funding for breast health care from Planned Parenthood, which spends 3% of its time providing abortions and the other 97% providing health care for women who have nowhere else to go. Komen did this because of political pressure from the right and because it hired a woman who hates Planned Parenthood.

But here’s the bright side: in the 24 hours after the announcement was made, Planned Parenthood raised $650,000. Then, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he will donate up to $250,000 more in matching funds. That’s $900,000. I’m willing to bet that by the time you read this, it will be over a million dollars. Money which will have no constraints, by the way. Karen Handel pulled $680,000 for breast health and motivated people to raise $1,000,000 for any service Planned Parenthood needs to provide.

Additionally, at least two executives at Komen have resigned. One says that due to confidentiality agreements, she can’t say why, but in her statement she says that she’s an “advocate for public health” and “believe[s] it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission.” Another was their top public health official. Also, Komen affiliates across the country have denounced the decision. Things are not looking so great over there.

…I wrote all of that last night, February 2nd. I wrote more, too, but I’m rewriting it now, because this morning (while, incidentally, sitting at Planned Parenthood waiting for a friend to get her birth control, which would have otherwise cost her $65, money she doesn’t have) I got a news alert from the New York Times: “Cancer Group, Reversing Course, Says It Will Maintain Planned Parenthood Funding”.

Actually, not quite, as it turns out. Komen has changed their “guidelines” to say that the investigation “must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political”. But all that means is that Planned Parenthood is again eligible to apply for funding, which is no guarantee that they will receive it. The funding that it had already been granted for this year wasn’t going to be revoked to begin with. Still, if nothing else, this has demonstrated the power of the internet to at the very least make huge organizations pay attention. It has also demonstrated that when it comes to the people and not the politicians, the pro-woman’s health side is still strong.

The Komen Foundation also pulled its support late last year (previously around $12 million) for any research that uses stem cells, despite the promise that stem cells hold for treating cancer. That money does not appear to have been restored. Said money was never for embryonic stem cell research. It was just going to institutions where other scientists were doing embryonic stem cell research.

So, am I glad that Planned Parenthood is eligible to apply for funding again? Of course. Am I appalled that it took this sort of outcry to make that happen? Yes, but not surprised. Do I think Komen is not really reversing course but just pretending to in order to bow to different pressure? Pretty much. Am I proud of the pro-woman’s health community? Unequivocally.

Because we fought back. Pro-choice, anti-choice, men, women, black, white, young, old, poor, rich, we fought back, we raised a huge amount of money, and we forced them to listen. Personally, I (and many others) donated to Planned Parenthood in honor of Karen Handel, meaning she’ll get a nice card thanking her. Others called their congresspeople. Others told their stories on sites like Planned Parenthood Saved Me We all worked together, and it was amazing.

For more information on this, including ways to help, you can visit our website, where there is a page with links to press releases, news sites, blogs, and more, at bit.ly/strosewi.

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