Komen pulls plug on Planned Parenthood, inciting critics

8:14 PM, Feb 2, 2012   |    comments
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Washington, UNITED STATES: Nancy Brinker, Founder, Susan G. Komen for the Cure makes remarks at the Komen Community Challenge rally 26 April, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure released the 'Breast Cancer Mortality Report: Closing the Gaps in Eight Communities,' which gives an in depth look into eight communities with unusually high breast cancer mortality rates. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

(USA TODAY) -- Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer awareness foundation best known for its pink-ribbon advocacy program, has plenty of critics seeing red.

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The foundation's decision to halt funding for Planned Parenthood is running into a hailstorm of protests from politicians, health advocates, cancer patients and supporters who say Komen's leadership is bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists.

Komen, the nation's largest breast cancer charity, has provided funding to Planned Parenthood and its local affiliates since 2005 -- nearly $700,000 in 2011 alone -- for preventive screenings and education programs aimed at low-income and uninsured women.

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Komen says it scrapped its Planned Parenthood grants because new internal rules prohibit it from funding organizations that are under investigation. Planned Parenthood is being investigated by Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she hoped Komen would resume grants to Planned Parenthood.

"I was perplexed and troubled to see the decision to cut off funding for lifesaving breast cancer screenings through Planned Parenthood because of a political witch hunt by House Republicans," Boxer said in a statement. "I truly hope that they will reconsider this decision and put the needs of women first."

Planned Parenthood director Cecile Richards told USA Today that Komen officials notified her of the funding cut before Christmas and spurned repeated efforts to talk about the decision.

"We share the same mission, but it's never good when women's health care becomes a political issue," Richards said. "We've done thousands of breast examinations of women who have no insurance or who won't go anywhere else. That's why this is so hard to deal with."

Sharon Belknap, 56, of Terre Haute, Ind., said that without a breast exam and mammogram provided by Planned Parenthood, "I probably wouldn't be talking to you right now."

Belknap, who has a job but no insurance, turned to Planned Parenthood after she found a breast lump last year. Planned Parenthood also found a program to pay for Belknap's treatment, which included a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and drugs.

"I don't know what I would have done without them," she said.

Komen officials did not respond to phone calls or emails Wednesday. The foundation's Facebook page defended its fund-cutting decision.

"Grant-making decisions are not about politics -- our priority is and always will be the women we serve. Making this issue political or leveraging it for fundraising purposes would be a disservice to women," the page said.

In its statement, Komen added that it will work with its local affiliates to "ensure there is no interruption or gaps in services for women who need breast health screening and services."

Critics called the decision to sever ties with Planned Parenthood a marketing blunder by a deep-pocketed, usually savvy foundation.

The Komen Foundation is famous for raising donations through its local Race for the Cure events and outreach efforts with corporations and organizations such as the National Football League, whose players sported pink gloves and shoes to enhance breast cancer awareness in a highly visible month-long effort last October.

Susan Raymond, research chief with Changing Our World, a philanthropy consultancy, said Komen's move would likely affect donations to both non-profits.

"It will affect [Komen's] fundraising in the near term because it could be viewed as something possibly inconsistent with women's health issues," Raymond said. "It's hard to believe a large and sophisticated organization as this wouldn't have done the arithmetic."

Richards noted that Planned Parenthood had already received thousands of donations -- large and small -- from supporters following word of the Komen funding cut yesterday. That could likely make up most of the shortfall.

Planned Parenthood could continue to gain from sympathetic donors -- as well as those switching donations from Komen, Raymond said.

Other remain concerned about the impact of the cuts. Breast cancer survivor Lani Horne, who blogs at chemobabe.com, said she's worried that women will lose the chance to be screened for cancer.

"I've been in poor communities where Planned Parenthood is the best and most reliable source of health care," said Horne, 40, of Nashville. "You are not going to go to the ER for a mammogram."

More than 3,500 people had posted comments on Komen's main Facebook page by midday Wednesday. Many other spoke out on blogs and Twitter, some using the hashtag #occupythecure.

A growing number of breast cancer survivors recently have been critical of Komen's "cause marketing," deals such as a much-parodied partnership with KFC, which sold "Buckets for the Cure." A new documentary, Pink ribbons Inc., showing this month at film festivals around the country, interviews breast cancer survivors who criticize Komen for commercializing their disease.

Breast cancer survivor Jody Schoger, from The Woodlands, Texas, said Komen has grown increasingly out-of-touch as it has grown from a small start-up into a fundraising giant.

"When an organization that claims to be a leader in breast cancer bows to political pressure from a third party, it's time for another [group] to step forward," Schoger said.

Doctors and lawmakers have criticized Komen's decision as well.

"Investigation does not mean guilt," prominent breast surgeon Susan Love, founder of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, wrote on her blog. "Pro-life should mean not just the lives of babies, but also the lives of women. This is not an either/or situation."

Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, said Komen's decision will hurt poor and minority women the most, noting that one in six women of childbearing age get their health care from Planned Parenthood.

Komen's founder, Nancy Brinker, has been well-connected in both parties. She served as President George W. Bush's ambassador to Hungary, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Many of Komen's critics Wednesday noted that Karen Handel, who manages the group's public policy arm, ran for governor of Georgia as a Republican in 2010 and had pledged to take away Planned Parenthood's state funding. Handel had the backing of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin but lost the election. She joined Komen in 2011 as senior vice president of public policy.

Last fall, Lifeway Christian Resources, the marketing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, recalled thousands of pink Bibles from Christian bookstores after anti-abortion rights group Bound4Life branded them as "Bibles for Abortion." Sales had been expected to raise at least $25,000 for Komen.

Based on Komen's latest action, Lifeway is now considering whether to market the pink Bibles.

Anti-abortion activists such as Melinda Delahoyde, president of pregnancy support agency Care Net and former head of educational outreach group Americans United for Life, cheered Komen's move to end its relationship with Planned Parenthood.

It's "a tarnished brand. It's under congressional investigation and consequences follow from that," Delahoyde said.

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