Whew! That was close...for a moment there I thought someone was saying that politics was more important than the health of all women. I, and millions of others, were under the impression that once again women were being used as pawns in the political game.
That was the message sent by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the leading fundraiser for breast cancer research and support money. Up until this past week, the organization had done much to further women’s health with its pink ribbon campaign of awareness and advocacy, and its far-reaching fundraising efforts.
But this week Komen made a move that shocked many: Seeming to bow to conservative pressure, they announced they were . Komen spokespeople said that the foundation adopted a new policy, one that barred financial support of organizations under governmental investigation.
For a moment, once again, politics trumped healthcare for women.
Planned Parenthood supporters—really, supporters of protecting women's health—rallied, big time. Petition campaigns, Facebook and Twitter posts, emails, editorial cartoons...the Internet and news media was literally awash in outcry against the direct attack on women's healthcare. It was the loudest internet protest I've heard, likely ever.
And surprisingly, Komen listened.
Friday, they released a statement from Komen founder Nancy Brinker, apologizing for defunding Planned Parenthood, and reversing the move, saying tthey will continue to maintain their current level of support.
The breaking news definitely is reason to celebrate, but the events of this week are yet another reminder about how the health of women—most usually lower income and underserved women—is regarded as dispensible and negligible, and that it's under political attack.
has been targeted this past year by republican lawmakers pushing to defund the organization. Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) has launched an investigation to find out if public money was used to fund abortion procedures at Planned Parenthood facilities.
The Komen policy was only added this past year shortly after Karen Handel joined the foundation as sr. vice president for public policy. Handel ran an unsuccessful bid for governor of Georgia in 2010 on a pro-life platform, and has been an outspoken critic of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was the only recipient of Komen funds affected by the new policy; moving forward the policy will only disqualify organizations under investigation that is "criminal and conclusive in nature and not political," per Brinker's statement.
Planned Parenthood is one of the largest providers of reproductive and general health care of women in the country. They perform pap smears, breast exams and cancer screening; the test and treat sexually transmitted diseases and infections; they provide contraception; and they provide abortion services.
The last function is what’s at the heart of anti-abortion lawmakers and organization’s objection to any support of Planned Parenthood—and yet it is only 3 percent of the services the organization provides. Planned Parenthood has made sure that money coming from Komen did not support abortions.
According to the Huffington Post, Komen funding in the past has supported nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams to low-income and uninsured women. Without that funding it would be harder for women to get the life-saving care they need.
In the words of one editorial cartoon that made the rounds yesterday, “Thank you for cutting off funding for cancer screening programs in order to prove you are pro-life.”
As the CEO of one Planned Parenthood affiliate said: "Cancer doesn't care if you're pro-choice, anti-choice, progressive, conservative. Victims of cancer could care less about people's politics."
At stake was relatively small amount: it was said to be about $600,000 that Komen gave annually to Planned Parenthood to support breast exams and referrals for mammograms, mostly for women that wouldn’t be able to afford such preventative and diagnostic care were it not for Planned Parenthood facilities. After Komen's initial announcement cancelling support, donations (including $250,000 from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) poured in to Planned Parenthood, making up for what it would have lost.
It was quickly clear that Komen's move backfired in more ways than one. In addition to the resignation of its top public health executive because of the Komen choice to end funding, there was renewed criticism that its famous pink ribbon campaign is more marketing than life-saving: When news of the funding brouhaha broke, cartoons quickly popped up saying that “pink mugs, shirts and shoes don’t detect cancer, doctors do,” in a reference to the actual medical care that happens at Planned Parenthood.
But most damaging of all seemed to be the understanding that Komen cared more for political alliances than healthcare, and that hurt Komen financially. Komen’s Facebook page overflowed with posters angry about the decision, who vowed never to donate again. One post said, “You can keep your pink ribbon! For shame!”
Komen did great harm to their image, and despite Friday's move to correct it, it will take a very long time to repair it. When a blog like “Pink Badge of Cowardice” is but one of many that pop up just one day after news breaks, you’ve destroyed a good chunk of your long-standing brand image—and credibility—in no time at all.
Important to note, from the start of the brouhaha, the CT affiliate of Komen vowed to continue funding local Planned Parenthood offices, so that women in southern CT would have continued to be receive healthcare even without the national organization's help. You can thank them at their Facebook page for standing defiant and tall in the face of harmful political pressure.
The attacks will keep coming. Thankfully the multitudes spoke up to help defend women's health. And it seems it was a strong enough voice to make a difference, and get those who control the purse strings—and perhaps lawmaking—to listen.
After all, the best thing to prove you’re more than a pawn is to show the power of your voice.