Suspicions of Komen are borne out

Knuckling to anti-abortion pressure, followed by speedy reversal, suggests an organization without secure moorings

  • The crowd at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Hunt Valley.
The crowd at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Hunt Valley. (Baltimore Sun/Amy Davis )
February 03, 2012|Susan Reimer

It is no secret. I have never trusted Susan G. Komen for the Cure and its pink ribbons. And the fact that it succumbed to public pressure and agreed Friday to continue its relationship with Planned Parenthood — after announcing a cutoff of funds earlier in the week — has done little to reassure me.

To begin with, I always thought it was a lousy way to assign health care and research dollars in this country. ("Hey! Let's all donate to the most popular girl in the class and cure her disease!")

Heart disease kills more women than breast cancer does, but it has never had the marketing weight that Susan G. Komen has.

I never liked the idea of corporations trying to appeal to American women by painting their products pink. You want to donate to the cause? Fine. Write a check. Don't make me buy a mixer or a cup of yogurt from you first.

And when the NFL started accessorizing its referees, players and coaches in hot pink, the eye-rolling began here in earnest. Hey, Roger Goodell! You want to wipe out breast cancer? How about donating a chunk of your $20 billion television contract to the cause instead of just picking up some spare change raffling off Hines Ward's pink skull cap?

So I guess I wasn't surprised when Komen knuckled under to anti-abortion forces and said it would cut off the money it gives to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening for poor and under-served women.

Komen had long resisted the aggressive propaganda pressures of the anti-abortion right. But when a Southern Baptist group suspended its pink Bible donations, it must have appeared to the charity that the handwriting was on the wall.

So it hired Karen Handel, a failed Republican candidate for governor of Georgia with a history of hostility to Planned Parenthood as one of its vice presidents. And when an anti-abortion Republican congressman from Florida, Cliff Stearns, launched a ginned-up investigation into whether women's health care dollars and abortion dollars were kept in the same drawer at Planned Parenthood, Komen had its opening to end an increasingly troublesome partnership.

It decided that it would cease funding any outfit that was the subject of any investigation by a government agency. (Never mind that the federal government refused to take up Stearns' concerns.) On Friday, Komen announced that its guideline would apply only to criminal investigations and not those with political overtones.

The decision to cut off Planned Parenthood was made in secret in October and kept under wraps until the news media broke the story this week, so the board of directors must have known how it would play.

But I am not sure Komen counted on the Internet frenzy that followed. Almost immediately, there were thousands and thousands of posts on blogs and on social-network sites decrying the move and promising never to support Komen again. A petition was launched calling on Komen to rescind the decision, and it quickly gathered 200,000 signatures.

The fact that abortions make up only 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is almost beside the point. The conservative groups that are armed against this health care provider oppose comprehensive sex education, too. And they don't believe our young people should have ready access to contraceptives or to screening for sexually transmitted diseases.

This is just the latest attack on the reproductive freedoms of women in this country. And although Komen did the right thing in the end, I am pretty sure that the real Susan G. Komen, the woman who fought breast cancer with such spirit and whose legacy grew to be so strong, would be offended by the way this played out.

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