The vast majority of women in this country have, in one way or another, donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, if not by sending them a check, then by buying pink-capped yogurt and mailing in the lids, or buying a pink T-shirt, or a pink bracelet, or by walking in or sponsoring a friend in the famous “Race for The Cure.” If Komen was considered a brand name, it’d be right up there at the top of the most pro-women companies. Hey, they fight against breast cancer, right? And what woman’s life hasn’t been affected in one way or another by breast cancer? It touches all of us.
And then last week came the news that Komen has decided to suspend their funding of Planned Parenthood, to the tune of $680,000, with the reason given that Planned Parenthood was under investigation by a House subcommittee that implied that Federal dollars were used to fund abortions. Komen’s new policy forbids those under investigation from receiving funds now or in the future. That $600,000 dollars goes toward breast cancer care, screenings and referrals, toward 170,000 breast exams and 6.400 mammogram referrals that under-served populations of women would have had to do without. A real blow to women’s health in America, especially those in areas where Planned Parenthood is one of the few, if not the only, place available for women’s reproductive health care.
But within twenty-four hours, something truly amazing happened. If we didn’t already know where women’s loyalties lies, we do now. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg donated $250,000 in matching funds, which was matched almost immediately. Women and the men who care about them, from all over the country, in this difficult economic time, sent hard-earned cash to Planned Parenthood. The twitterverse lit up like a Christmas tree with links at which to donate, strong statements of support. Friends called and sent texts to sisters, mothers, daughters and friends. Coworkers pooled their cash and made donations together. Within 48 hours, the impact of the Komen cut was completely wiped out – any losses had been made up completely by donors to Planned Partenthood. Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood stated in Friday:
…During the last week, millions spontaneously joined a national conversation about lifesaving breast cancer prevention care and reinforced shared values about access to health care for all. This compassionate outcry in support of those most in need rose above political, ideological, and cultural divides, and will surely be recognized as one of our nation’s better moments during a contentious political time. Planned Parenthood thanks each and every person who has contributed to elevating the importance of breast cancer prevention for so many women in need…
The miraculous thing here is not that it happened, it’s how it happened. There was no organized effort short of a few emails from pro-choice groups. This was a spontaneous response, an outpouring of outrage toward Komen and a demonstration of solidarity with Planned Parenthood by people across the nation. No one had to organize it, no one had to rally the troops: women stood together across the nation to unequivocally demonstrate their support for women’s reproductive health.
Komen was shocked by the force of the response. They scrambled to reverse their decision. And within two short days, the defenders of Planned Parenthood had won the battle. But not the war: that’s not where the story ends. In fact, it’s only the beginning. Not only had Komen single-handedly destroyed their brand in the eyes of millions of American women, but the real story behind Komen’s motivation to make such a “convenient” policy began to come to light. While Komen’s founder, Nancy Brinker, insists there was no political reason behind the decision to cut Planned Parenthood’s funding, there is too much evidence to the contrary:
- While Komen has promised to honor the present grant cycle, and make Planned Parenthood eligible for future grants, nowhere is it stated that the grants will be renewed as they have been previously.
- Ari Fleischer, Dubya Bush’s press secretary personally interviewed applicants for a Senior Vice-President position at Komen in December, 2011. Interviewees were drilled by Fleischer about how they’d handle the organization’s relationship with Planned Parenthood.
- Komen’s upper management includes Karen Handel, Senior Vice President for Public Policy, a candidate interviewed by Fleischer. While running for governor, she vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, eliminate funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings, and stating:
“I will be a pro-life governor who will work tirelessly to promote a culture of life in Georgia…. I believe that each and every unborn child has inherent dignity, that every abortion is a tragedy, and that government has a role, along with the faith community, in encouraging women to choose life in even the most difficult of circumstances…. since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.”
- Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL), an anti-abortion proponent and part of the group, Americans United for Life, began the investigation into how Planned Parenthood spends its funds, putting pressure on Komen to cut funding as well.
- Mollie Williams, Komen’s top public health official, resigned in protest over the new investigations rule. Sources inside Komen say when the Komen leaders were informed of the investigation by Stearns, they took the opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood.
“The rule was created to give the board of directors the excuse to stop the funding of Planned Parenthood. It was completely arbitrary. If they hadn’t come up with this particular rule, they would have come up with something else in order to separate themselves from Planned Parenthood.”
- Adding pressure to dump Planned Parenthood, Southern Baptists ended their Pink Bible campaign, which donated a dollar for Komen for each Bible sold, a pretty big chunk of change.
So the argument that this was a political move on Komen’s part, caused by caving to right-wing conservative forces grows increasingly stronger and more and more irrefutable.
But as the tide turned against Komen, coming to light this week as well was the subject of how Komen used their funding, leaving a further bad taste in the mouths of supporters:
- Only 60% of donations to Komen are used for breast cancer research or awareness.
- Komen cut embryonic stem cell research loss of $12M to universities and research centers despite their tagline of searching for the cure, again due to pressure from right wing groups.
- Komen’s massive legal department cruises the country bullying small non-profits and threatening lawsuits toward anyone who uses the phrase “for the cure” or the color pink in their fundraising. Read this for more. This effort costs Komen over a million dollars a year, money that discourages other non-profits and funds that could be used to provide care and research.
- At least one former CEOs of Komen earned $456,437, a whopping salary for a non-profit organization. CharityNavigator.org reports state that this is not an isolated salary level, with most of the upper eschelon in the six-figure range. That’s a boatload of mammograms.
- If the new rule regarding investigations is legitimate, then why does Komen continue to fund the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center with $7.5 million? Penn State is currently under federal investigation as well
- Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (they use a hot pink, a magenta so they don’t get sued by Komen!) They also have a great link that tells where the money goes in each community that raises it.
- The American Cancer Society The original group fighting breast and other cancers. Check out the bottom of the page, a list of links of ways to contribute. Can’t help with cash? How about donating those air miles you never get around to using?
- National Breast Cancer Foundation A highly-rated charitable foundation, they’ve partnered with many companies to use their products to support the cause. Check the bottom of the page for products you can buy to support mammograms for under-served groups of women.
- Y-ME Breast Cancer Support 24-7 hotline manned by women who have survived cancer, available to talk to women fighting breast cancer. 1-800-221-2141. Their statement:
“Recent news has had us answering a few questions about our political agenda. And the answer is: we don’t have one. Instead, we have a mission, and a simple one: to assure that no one faces breast cancer alone. No one.
We at Y-ME do not care about your color, your insurance, your background, your voting record. We care that you need someone to talk to, someone who understands. When you have questions about breast cancer, you need information you can count on from someone you can trust.”