Komen Gets Political With Women

A big breakup is always sad, especially when the partners involved were compatible for so long. Which is why I’m deeply disappointed by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision to discontinue funding for Planned Parenthood.

They seemed a match made in heaven. Susan G. Komen is the world’s largest charity that deals with breast cancer. You probably know about them, even worn one of their ribbons or participated in a walk/run. They’ve forever changed the way we interpret the color pink. Planned Parenthood offers poor and uninsured women breast cancer examinations, mammograms, ultrasounds and education. Together, they were a powerful force for women’s health.

No more. Last week Tuesday the Komen foundation pulled its support, citing a newly adopted rule barring grants to any organization being investigated by state or federal authorities. Komen says Planned Parenthood is therefore disqualified because of an inquiry being conducted by U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Republican of Florida who is rabidly anti-abortion. This action comes less than a year after Komen hired a new vice president for public policy, Karen Handel. Handel ran for governor of Georgia two years ago on an anti-choice and antiPlanned Parenthood platform.


Some facts: Komen money was used for breast screenings and education, not abortions, which, by the way, make up only 3 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood. And the population Planned Parenthood serves is the most vulnerable: low-income women and men, many without access to health insurance.

Planned Parenthood says its clinics received enough funding from Komen to cover about 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals last year. Without Komen’s funding, many of those women would not get the screenings for early detection of breast cancer that could save their lives.

Fortunately, our Hawaii chapter of Planned Parenthood will not be affected. CEO Andrea Anderson says they are nevertheless saddened by the Komen decision.

“While we are not directly affected, we are concerned about the troubling precedent of putting politics before women’s health,” Anderson says. “We know that for years, opponents of women’s health have put pressure on the Komen Foundation to break ties with Planned Parenthood at the expense of women’s health and lives. We’re alarmed that they have succumbed to that political pressure.

“In the past, the Komen Foundation in Hawaii has been our partner. In 2005, we received a small grant to perform education, outreach and breast-cancer screenings. Ever since, we’ve used their education materials to reach out to countless women on the issue of breast health and breast cancer. We plan to continue using those tools in our clinics and as part of our outreach.”

I’m glad our Hawaii Planned Parenthood will still be able to provide services like breast and cervical cancer screenings, breast health education and referrals for patients who need mammograms. Last year it provided 2,638 local women with breast exams.

Shelia Callum, executive director of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure, responded to my inquiry. She says the whole thing has been mischaracterized, and that there is nothing political in the decision.

“For Komen, the women we serve are our highest priority in everything we do. Last year, thanks to the support of individuals and businesses, we were able to invest $93 million in community health programs. These programs provided 700,000 mammograms, no doubt saving countless lives.

“Earlier this year, we began an initiative to further strengthen our grants program to be even more outcomes-driven and to allow for even greater investments in programs that directly serve women. We also implemented more stringent eligibility and performance criteria to support these strategies. As we move forward, we are working directly with Komen headquarters to make sure there is no interruption or gaps in services for women who need breast health screening and services.”

As I said at the start of this column, I’m deeply saddened by the breakup. Not because we are going to lose a lot here in Hawaii luckily, we won’t but I’m disturbed because there are so many good people involved with both Planned Parenthood and with the Susan G. Komen foundation, and they have to be feeling terrible about this. After all, at the heart of both organizations is a deep commitment to women’s health.

It’s such a shame. I hate to see the disintegration of a perfect partnership. And I want politics to get the heck out of our exam rooms and leave our bodies alone.

Footnote: Washington Post reported last Thursday that donors contributed $650,000 to Planned Parenthood in just 24 hours, nearly enough to offset last year’s Komen funding. And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to match P.P. donations up to $250,000.

Then, amid firestorm of criticism, on Friday Komen abruptly reversed its decision. Komen’s founder and chief executive officer Susan Brinker apologized to the public.

In part, her statement said: “We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.”