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Controversy Engulfs Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Friday, February 3, 2012

Susan G. Komen for the Cure's decision this week to cut funding for Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screenings has pit the two women's health groups against each other and stirred controversy and concerns over the impact on low-income women.

Subhead: 
Susan G. Komen for the Cure's decision this week to cut funding for Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screenings has pit the two women's health groups against each other and stirred controversy and concerns over the impact on low-income women.



(WOMENSENEWS)--The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health expressed disappointment Thursday in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation's decision to discontinue funds to Planned Parenthood health centers for breast cancer prevention, screenings and education, adding to the uproar over the move.

"The Komen foundation's decision is alarming and potentially deadly for Latinas, the uninsured and low-income women across the country," Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the Latina Institute, said in a press statement.

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Hispanic women are 20 percent more likely to die from breast cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women when diagnosed at a similar age and stage, reported HealthDay News Dec. 8, 2011, and twice as likely to go without health insurance, according to U.S. Census data.

Screening rates for Hispanic women are also lower than for Caucasians -- 69.7 percent compared to 72.7 percent -- according to a study recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Such controversy continues to engulf Susan G. Komen for the Cure after news broke Jan. 31 that it would be cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood Federation of America's breast cancer screenings for low-income women.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure's top public health official, Mollie Williams, immediately resigned after the board made the decision in December to end grants to Planned Parenthood, the Atlantic reported Feb. 2. Sources claim that William's resignation was a direct response to the Planned Parenthood decision, though Williams said she wouldn't respond to questions about the decision or her resignation. She was the managing director of community health programs and oversaw the distribution of $93 million in annual grants.

Accusations Denied

A written statement on Komen's Facebook page denies accusations that political pressure from anti-abortion groups had anything to do with the decision. As of Feb. 2, that post had received over 9,400 comments, mostly negative ones such as "No more of my money goes to SGK until you return funding to Planned Parenthood!" The recent video posted to the organization's Facebook page, "Straight Talk from Ambassador Nancy G. Brinkler," featuring the organization's founder and CEO, had over 4,800 comments, also largely incensed.

The anger has also spread to corporate supporters of the foundation. After Komen announced via its Facebook page that Energizer joined its Million Dollar Council, a Jan. 30 post on Energizer's Facebook page received over 150 comments by Feb. 2, mostly asking the company to pull support from Komen and threatening not to buy Energizer products until then.

Many who have posted comments either on Facebook or other message boards claim that their comments have been deleted, reported The Washington Post Feb. 2. Komen's vice president of communications denies the allegations, stating that only comments containing profanity were erased.

Those angry with the decision have also responded with their pocketbooks -- since the announcement, donors have given $650,000 to Planned Parenthood, according to the Washington Post Feb. 1. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday he would make up a large part of the missing funds through a matching gift -- he will donate $1 for every new dollar Planned Parenthood raises up to $250,000. The Ms. Foundation for Women has also launched a donation campaign to match funds, up to $20,000.

The Komen grants, which totaled $680,000 last year, funded 170,000 of the 4 million breast cancer screenings Planned Parenthood provided over the last five years, according to The Los Angeles Times. The money was also used for breast cancer education programs, some of which could come to a screeching halt without funding.

Mixed Reports

While Komen says the move was based solely on a rule to discontinue grants to organizations under federal investigation, Atlantic staffer Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that "three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut-off Planned Parenthood."

The federal investigation that Komen cites was launched last fall by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., who is looking into whether Planned Parenthood violated the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from being used for abortions. Critics have charged that Stearns was acting on the behest of the anti-choice group Americans United for Life, reported the Huffington Post Sept. 27, 2011.

Anti-choice groups have been pressuring Susan G. Komen for the Cure to end grants to Planned Parenthood and top Komen officials have also expressed anti-choice views. Komen's Senior Vice-President for Public Policy Karen Handel promised to defund Planned Parenthood during her unsuccessful run for governor of Georgia in 2010, according to Handel's own blog. Komen board member Jane Abraham, according to RH Reality Check Feb. 1, also serves as the general chair of the anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony List.

Komen CEO Brinker has complicated political loyalties. She has supported Planned Parenthood in the past and as recently as last year sat on the advisory council for Planned Parenthood of North Texas. But she is also closely tied to the anti-choice Republican Party and is a major donor to the party. Brinker has given $175,000 to Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee since 1990, Mother Jones reported Feb. 1. She also served the George W. Bush's administration as ambassador to Hungary and, later, as chief protocol officer.

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Samantha Kimmey is a writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.