Not Off the Hook Yet
Some Women Still Won't Give Komen Another Pink Cent
US senator Patty Murray didn't waste a minute. Moments after news broke on January 31 that Susan G. Komen for the Cure, America's largest breast cancer foundation, cut funding for breast cancer screenings through Planned Parenthood, Murray became the first member of Congress to condemn Komen's pink-ribbon-festooning charity.
For three days, Murray led a noisy campaign amid the uproar. She rounded up 24 fellow senators to sign a forceful letter criticizing Komen's decision. She appeared on MSNBC. And she kept the focus on Republicans in Congress behind the crusade against Planned Parenthood.
Again, Washington State's senior senator was the first one out of the gate on February 3. Within an hour of Komen posting a retraction on its blog (saying it would fund Planned Parenthood under growing political pressure), Murray insisted women should continue to watchdog the right-wing campaign to defund Planned Parenthood.
"We cannot assume our fight's over," Murray said at a Seattle press conference shortly after touching down on a flight from Washington, DC. "We will remain vigilant that politics does not come into their decisions."
However, the machinations behind Komen's decision remain somewhat tricky.
In January, Komen's national board—led by Karen Handel, Komen's vice president for public policy and an anti-choice advocate—adopted a new rule that banned funding for organizations under "investigation." Here's why: Last year, congressional Republicans launched an investigation into whether federal funding to Planned Parenthood is being diverted into abortion programs, even though using federal funding for abortions is illegal and there's no evidence to support the political probe. In essence, the investigation is a farce, as was Komen's new "rule." Handel resigned on February 7; however, many women are still concerned that the carefully vague wording in Komen's retraction leaves the foundation room to cut Planned Parenthood funding in the future, once the media circus has died down.
On the bright side, the debacle delivered Planned Parenthood a banner fundraising week.
In three days, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (PPGN) raised $50,000 to continue funding breast cancer screenings in Washington State (substantially filling the $75,000 hole Komen left when it pulled its local grant funding). Nationally, Planned Parenthood raised a staggering $3 million earmarked for breast health. Thanks to the outpouring of donations, the 710,000 breast screenings Planned Parenthood conducts annually will continue uninterrupted, as will the 1,000 breast screenings that PPGN offered last year using local Komen funds.
Still, Murray kept up the drumbeat. The next day, in an e-mail to Democrats, she called the Republican investigation of Planned Parenthood "a partisan witch hunt." While the grants were set to resume, Murray wrote, "as long as this scurrilous 'investigation' continues, Planned Parenthood isn't safe."
It's not just about women's health, but also about an attack on political powerhouses of the left. Republicans have a habit of burning down liberal political powerhouses—like ACORN after the 2008 election. The right has also smeared NPR and PBS. But conservatives miscalculated with Planned Parenthood.
Now the question is, will Komen regain its footing with the public?
"Right now, I take them at their word," says PPGN CEO Chris Charbonneau. "I believe that if we put in for grants, they will be taken and considered along with everything else."
But other former Komen supporters aren't so sure. "I don't trust them," says Seattle resident and breast cancer survivor Lisa Smithy, "and I certainly don't feel good about giving them my money until I see what they're doing with it."
We won't know until Komen's 2013 funding cycle. In the meantime, people who want to keep the GOP agenda off women's bodies shouldn't give Komen one pink cent.