BALTIMORE, February 8, 2012 - A week after the initial announcement about the Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood, the dust has settled, the warring voices have quieted, and damage control has begun. There is one thing all sides can agree, this is a mess. A mess that will not go away. Suddenly, the Komen foundation is no longer about women’s health but about politics. To get themselves out of this boondoggle, the Foundation will have to choose sides.
First, let’s review what happened. Long under pressure not to give money to Planned Parenthood, the Komen Foundation adopted a new policy to target Planned Parenthood. At a November Board meeting, the Komen Foundation adopted new criteria for granting funds to organizations. The new policy stated “that the charity’s newly adopted criteria barred grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. According to Komen, this applies to Planned Parenthood because it’s the focus of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., seeking to determine whether public money was improperly spent on abortions.”
Last December, Komen was hiring a Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations. Ari Fleischer, who conducted the interviews, asked “how they would handle the controversy about Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood.” [source] This is important, because it shows how long Komen has mulled this decision. (It should also be noted that this is where Ari Fleischer’s official involvement ends, though Ad Age reported that he gave Komen CEO Nancy Brinker advice on the situation, crisis communications was handled by Ogilvy PR.)
Then on January 31, AP broke the news that the Komen foundation was pulling its funding from Planned Parenthood for breast exams. The shock and outrage were immediate. Planned Parenthood released a statement expressing “deep disappointment in response to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s decision to stop funding breast cancer prevention, screenings and education at Planned Parenthood health centers. Anti-choice groups in
Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive services in the
Did the Komen Foundation succumb to political pressures? Evidence points to yes. First, Karen Handel, Komen’s now-former senior vice president for public policy, identified herself as a “pro-life Christian” and a former governor candidate in
The response was immediate and swift. Many former supporters and donors pledged to cease donations to Komen Foundation. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) — a big donor for the foundation and a participant in its Race for the Cure — announced that she would no longer support the organization over its decision.
The whole fiasco turned into a PR nightmare, a nightmare created by Komen’s own executives and conservative supporters. A video by CEO Nancy Brikner on YouTube, portrayed the CEO as a political flunky with an agenda to promote, not as a woman who lost a sister to breast cancer. The brand took a nosedive in all charity ratings, and the tap of money seemed to be closing. General Mills, one of the most recognizable brands associated with Komen, had ended its association with Komen at the end of 2011. The official line is that it was for ‘business reasons’, but one can’t help wonder if its ‘business reason’ was not to be dragged down with Komen, a savvy move.
Planned Parenthood supporters mobilized. Donations poured in,
Forty-eight hours – that is all it took to bring Komen to its knees. On February 3rd, Komen released a statement apologizing and pledging to continue funding Planned Parenthood. It seemed women and women’s health won a victory.
But did it really reverse its decision? The statement from Komen read, in part, “We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.” Except, current grants were not the issue- it was future grants that had caused the uproar.
The statement said that it had reinstated Planned Parenthood’s eligibility to apply for grants. However, all parties agree that if Komen did not reinstate the Planned Parenthood grant, another PR disaster would ensue.
The Komen foundation has long been the target of various kinds of criticism; ‘pink-washing,’ spending money on lawyers to protect its ‘brand’ (read: go after anyone else that uses the words “for the cure”), and, of course, its blatant conservative ties. Before this, those arguments barely got any traction. From now on, they will be front page news.
However, Karen Handel’s conservative agenda is still cutting a swath through Komen’s grants. For instance, the charity has now cut $12 million in funding to organizations that worked with embryonic stem cells. Komen has never funded stem cell research, however, now they will cut funding to any organization that does stem cell research anywhere in its organization. It is, as Jezebel put it, guilt by association. Such rogue institutes that have had their funding cut include: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the
Keep it classy, Komen.
[Correction from a reader - Contrary to what has been posted on some websites, Komen has not cut funding to the University of Kansas Medical Center. (In 2010, it granted one of the University of Kansas researchers $4.5 million to study whether an estrogen found in flax seed might help prevent breast cancer. Komen release here). An article on the false reports of Komen defunding our institution and others is here. Komen’s statement on this matter is here.]
Now, the Susan G. Komen foundation will now have to reestablish itself as the leading advocate of women’s health, instead of the leading advocate of pro-life women issues. Komen buckled to political pressure, and in the ensuing melee trampled over thousands of poor women who cannot get women health services anywhere else. Komen lost sight of its focus, the breasts. Let someone else worry about a women’s uterus.
Baltimore based, Amy Phillips is a columnist, blogger, public speaker, twitter addict and all around nerd.
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Amy Phillips is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Amy at her Accidental Musings blog.
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