Susan G. Komen And The Politics Of Division
I have never wondered about the politics of the people who run the charity organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I never cared. When there was a run I gave my support and thought the organization’s main purpose to find treatments and a cure for breast cancer was all I needed to know. The organization deserved support and I did what I could to support it. I never ran in any races. I hate running. But I donated and I supported my friends and family members who did run. Finding a cure or a treatment for all kinds of cancers should be a priority for our human collective and let the politics be damned. At least that’s how I used to think.
The Komen group has brought partisan politics to center stage of our national attention. Representatives from the Komen organization have confirmed that the group would no longer fund breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood and will be cutting off hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants. Planned Parenthood has been under attack by high profile conservatives and their supporters for offering some women access to abortions. Listen to some people talk and you would think that abortion procedures were the only thing that Planned Parenthood does. But the organization’s main focus is the protection of women’s health and women’s health services, the same purpose as Komen. Abortions make a tiny fraction of Planned Parenthood’s services, less than four percent. Nevertheless, because of its support for the protection of women’s choice to abort an unwanted pregnancy, Planned Parenthood has become a political target of conservatives.
Komen CEO and founder Nancy G. Brinker and her late husband Norman Brinker have given more than six hundred thousand dollars to Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee. Komen board of directors member Jane Abraham is also the general chairman of the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that has long wanted the termination of Planned Parenthood. And it should be noted that the decision to defund Planned Parenthood came just months after Komen hired Karen Handel to be their senior vice president for policy. Ms. Handel ran for governor of Georgia on a pro life platform and promised to eliminate grants to Planned Parenthood even though she acknowledged that Planned Parenthood was careful not to use the public’s money to fund abortion related services.
Regardless of how politically motivated it looks, Komen maintains that its decision was not politically motivated. Ms. Brinker made an appearance on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports to try and explain and defend the organization’s decision. She claims that the decision stemmed from newly adopted criteria that banned grants to any organization under investigation. Awfully coincidental considering the fact that Planned Parenthood is being investigated by conservative Florida Representative Cliff Stearns who recently announced a congressional inquiry of Planned Parenthood with encouragement from anti abortion activists. It should also be noted that there was no explanation of why Komen felt it was necessary to adopt these new regulations that seem to conveniently target only Planned Parenthood. Timing, like politics, is everything.
But people aren’t always as tranquil as they may seem. A lot of people care about women’s health and are appalled with the political impressions being played by Komen. The public’s response has been swift and overwhelming. In the days since the defunding announcement, donations to Planned Parenthood have spiked tremendously. So far, more than four hundred thousand dollars in donations from six thousand people. Plus, the organization received an additional quarter million gift from Dallas philanthropists Lee and Amy Fikes. On top of that, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that he would personally match the next quarter million raised by Planned Parenthood. Mr. Bloomberg said that politics have no place in healthcare and we should be helping women access that care and not placing barriers in their way. Mollie Williams, who had been Komen’s director of community health programs, had resigned in protest over the grant cutoff saying that she dedicated her career to fighting for the rights of the marginalized and underserved and believed it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission.
Among Komen’s affiliates, there were clear signs of disagreement with the decision to defund Planned Parenthood. The Connecticut branch received support after it publicly expressed frustration. All seven Komen affiliates in California signed a joint letter to their congressional delegation saying they were strongly opposed to the policy change. In New York City, Dr. Kathy Plesser, a radiologist and a member of the Komen affiliate’s medical advisory board said she would resign if the decision wasn’t changed soon. The board of the Arkansas Komen affiliate issued a statement noting that called for the new policy to be rejected. The American Association of University Women said it was scrapping plans to offer a Komen Race for the Cure.
As a private nonprofit, Komen has every right to decide how to spend its money. Nothing it has done is illegal. But the same thing can be said about Planned Parenthood. Komen’s willingness to end its grants even though there’s no evidence of wrongdoing reflects poorly on the cancer foundation. It’s commitment to its purpose are trumped by conservative dogma.
Obviously Komen has caved to pressure, externally and internally, to end its relationship with Planned Parenthood. And by not resisting the pressure from those opposed to abortions, Komen may end up doing more harm to Komen than to Planned Parenthood. People who once described themselves as supporters of the organization have vowed never to donate again. No doubt that people who want to rid the world of abortions will up their financial support for Komen to help mitigate the fallout. But the abortion rights advocates that have supported Komen over the years will be shifting their money directly to Planned Parenthood. If Komen loses a significant portion of its donor base, funding for breast cancer research and treatment will be severely impacted.
Susan G. Komen was a name that became synonymous with women’s health. It’s been operating for thirty years without any question of its politics or the personal endeavors of its leadership. Overnight, that understanding has changed. It’s now the organization for women’s health as long as those women don’t participate in any abortion related activities. And in the long run, Susan G. Komen will become a name synonymous with divisive politics.