Remember when anti-choicers got LifeWay Christian Resources to pull its pink-covered Here’s Hope Breast Cancer Bibles from Walmart and other stores because one dollar of every sale went to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation? The antis were upset that the wealthy and influential breast-cancer charity made grants to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and mammograms for low-income women. And remember when Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, told his flock to stop raising money for Komen because someday in the future it might endorse stem cell research? Crazy, right?
The anti-choice movement can be so clumsy, and so weird, we forget that it is also smart and strategic and busy busy busy. Because while you were shaking your head over pink Bibles and stem-cell futurology, Komen was hiring Karen Handel as senior vice president for public policy. Handel is not your typical philanthropy administrator. She is a Republican pol, a former Georgia secretary of state, who ran in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, with endorsements from Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and anti-immigrant finger-pointing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. At that time she described herself as “staunchly and unequivocally pro-life,” opposed to stem cell research and a fan of crisis pregnancy centers—places that have repeatedly been shown to use scare tactics and misinformation to dissuade women from seeking abortions. She vowed to eliminate from the state budget pass-through grants to Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings. Interestingly, she had previously supported these grants, using the exact arguments defenders of Komen’s PP grants are making now: PP is the only organization capable of doing the work—reaching low-income women, for whom the PP clinic is often the only medical care the get—and the grant money does not fund abortions. Handel’s turnaround shows you how quickly the anti-choicers have claimed formerly neutral turf: in only a few years a relationship deemed normal and good—in Georgia!—and the only existing way of providing needed services was branded with the mark of the beast.
Planned Parenthood says Komen grants totaled around $680,000 in 2011 and $580,000 the year before, accounting for around 170,000 of the 4 million breast exams it has given in the last five years. It’s pretty shocking that Komen would deprive of services women it has itself admitted have no other way of getting them. As Jodi Jacobson reports on RH Reality Check, in 2011 Komen itself acknowledged PP’s essential role in breast care:
While Komen Affiliates provide funds to pay for screening, education and treatment programs in dozens of communities, in some areas, the only place that poor, uninsured or under-insured women can receive these services are through programs run by Planned Parenthood.”
The statement continued:
These facilities serve rural women, poor women, Native American women, women of color, and the un- and under-insured. As part of our financial arrangements, we monitor our grantees twice a year to be sure they are spending the money in line with our agreements, and we are assured that Planned Parenthood uses these funds only for breast health education, screening and treatment programs.
As long as there is a need for health care for these women, Komen Affiliates will continue to fund the facilities that meet that need.
Komen claims that the defunding is due to a new rule it has adopted that no funds be given to an organization under investigation by state, local or federal authorities. And why make such a rule just now? As it just so happens, Planned Parenthood is currently the subject of a trumped-up investigation by Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Fla) at the behest of Americans United for Life: Stearns has demanded over a decade’s worth of documents in an attempt to determine whether federal dollars were used for abortion services. The very thing that Komen, only two years ago, denied was the case—and that Karen Handel herself said was not an issue in the Georgia funds she approved.
Komen may not have bargained for the extraordinary storm of protest its decision has evoked. There is much misery among its affiliates: at least one, Komen Connecticut, has posted its unhappiness on its Facebook page. On Twitter and Facebook longtime supporters are vowing never to donate or volunteer. A Credo Action petition garnered more than 100,000 signatures within hours. And in a classic example of unintended consequences, Sarah Kliff reports in the Washington Post that Planned Parenthood has already received $400,000 in donations in just twenty-four hours.
How you can take action:
Donate to Planned Parenthood for breast care and cancer screenings. Even a small gift at this moment makes a powerful statement of solidarity and resistance.
Check out Nona Willis Aronowitz in GOOD magazine for ways to support women’s health that don’t involve buying pink items you don’t need.
Let Komen know how you feel online or call them at 972-701-2168.
Your reward? Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic essay, “Cancerland,” on Komen, pinkwashing and the “breast cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me” industry.