The Komen Foundation
’s Partisan Attack on Planned Parenthood, the Women Who Are Upset, the Response from the Local Chapter, and What You Can Do Caves, But What Now?
UPDATE: Under growing national pressure, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it will restore funding to Planned Parenthood. "We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants," Komen said in a statement. On the one hand, this is seen as a huge victory for the broader progressive community, in that it finally got its shit together to effectively push back against the creeping right-wing conspiracy.
But questions remain. The Komen statement has weaselly wording, giving it wiggle room to stop funding Planned Parenthood in the future. The uproar has been quelled, but we won't know if Komen has truly reversed itself until its grants for 2012 grants are announced. Until then, no one with any sense should give Komen one red cent. US Senator Parry Murray declared that progressives must keep an eye on Komen. "We will remain vigilant that politics does not come into their decisions," she said. "We cannot assume our fight’s over because there are those on the other side who will use everything they have to stop funding for Planned Parenthood."
For the last two days, the Puget Sound chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure has been quiet about the attack on women’s health care from national headquarters. In case you’re just joining us, the attack came in the form of a new “rule” the Komen board adopted internally two days ago that bans grants to any organization under “investigation.” It just so happens that loony right-wingers in Congress are investigating whether federal funding to Planned Parenthood is being diverted into abortion programs. But federal law already bans the use of virtually all federal funds from paying for abortions (except in limited cases, for example, rape or incest), and there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood’s federal grants are paying for abortions, making the entire probe a farce.
Never mind the obvious switcheroo: All the Komen dollars were going to provide breast-cancer screenings (what Komen is ostensibly all about) and zero dollars were going to abortion (what the GOP’s investigation is all about, and only about 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activity). Komen’s national director, Nancy Brinker, has denied that cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood has anything to do with politics, but Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic reported on February 1—two days after the news broke—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 Komen chapter in Denver, Colorado, announced on January 31 that it was rejecting the politically charged mandate and would continue funding Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains at least until March 2013. The decision in Denver was reportedly based on evidence that Planned Parenthood delivered the most bang for its buck: Its Denver clinics detected nearly 20 percent of all of the cases of breast cancer discovered in the area—despite being only one of 40 organizations in that region to receive Komen grant funds.
In Seattle, Planned Parenthood uses Komen dollars to screen hundreds of women annually, more than 650 last year alone. So why has the Puget Sound Komen affiliate been so quiet? After two days of repeated requests from The Stranger for comment, Komen for the Cure Puget Sound released a statement late in the day on February 2 saying that it had asked the national board to rescind its policy. But Komen for the Cure Puget Sound stopped short of saying that it would be as bold as Denver, which is continuing to fund Planned Parenthood.
"As we communicated with Komen National last month on behalf of our Board and Staff, we believe that this policy is overly broad and strips the authority from affiliates,” the statement reads, revealing that the local chapter of Komen has known for a while that this was coming. The statement goes on to say, “We believe this policy is misguided and respectfully reiterate our request that the policy be rescinded or revised to permit greater flexibility to the affiliates to evaluate grant applicants and, together with Komen National, determine whether an applicant should be ineligible for funding.”
The local chapter adds, “We must consider the implications of this policy on women worldwide.”
Thirty-year-old Seattle resident Kate Harmer is one of thousands of the 700,000 women who have relied on Planned Parenthood’s breast-cancer-screening programs each year in the United States. "My mom was diagnosed when I was 9 and passed away from breast cancer when I was 19,” she says. “I grew up knowing that I could get breast cancer, that my sister could have it—doctors told us that because our mom had breast cancer that we were really at high risk. When I graduated high school, I lost my health insurance—yet I had this high risk of breast cancer—and the only place I could get free screenings was Planned Parenthood. For 10 years, I would go to Planned Parenthood for my annual physicals, checkups, and breast exams. They were my primary health-care provider.”
While waiting for the response from Komen for the Cure Puget Sound, The Stranger reached out to many Komen donors for comment. We called executives at Boeing, Costco, law firms, banks, even the general manager at the Westin downtown—all of them trustees organizing the Komen Foundation's upcoming gala in Seattle on March 3. None of them spoke out against Komen's bigotry, and most didn't respond at all. We called Komen gala trustee Holli Martinez (former Mariners player Edgar's wife), whose own charity organization, the Martinez Foundation, is devoted to the promotion of people of color in education—the same people of color who are adversely affected by lack of access to breast cancer screenings, according to Komen's own admission. Martinez did not call back.
We also called architecture offices, the Seahawks, the Sounders, the Swedish Cancer Institute—all companies that were "Promise Partners" (donors of $30,000 to $150,000) of the Puget Sound Susan G. Komen Foundation last year. The only response to a request for comment from any of these entities was a communications director for MulvannyG2 Architecture, who said, "We are choosing not to participate in this media opportunity at this time," as if we were trying to sell her a vacuum.
The only local donor to speak out against Komen's blatant right-wing bullshit so far is Lisa Dawson, one of the gala trustees. On her blog, she wrote that she is "stunned, saddened, and frankly a bit ticked off"—but that she will continue to support Komen, and she urges other people to as well.
Most, if not all, of these people will be attending Komen’s pink-tie gala at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel on March 3. We’re glad that all these executives with full insurance benefits can throw nice galas for a charity willing to fuck over the neediest women in order to follow the whims of a bunch of right-wingers at national headquarters. But their tacit agreement is a shameful reflection of our region’s corporate elite.
If you think the controversy over the Komen’s defunding of Planned Parenthood is about breast cancer or abortion, you haven’t been paying attention.
Oh sure, it has something to do with abortion, and the Republican Party’s four-decade-long campaign to politicize it for partisan gain, but it is all part of a broader right-wing conspiracy to pick off and destroy progressive organizations one by one, particularly those that make the increasingly rare effort to combine public service with public advocacy.
Planned Parenthood serves three million women a year—one in five American women will visit a Planned Parenthood clinic at some point in her life. In some communities, particularly poor and underserved ones, Planned Parenthood is the only option for contraception, HIV screening, Pap smears, and other cancer screenings. Yet Planned Parenthood is also a political powerhouse, leveraging the women it serves to lobby in defense of reproductive choice and other women’s health-care issues.
And it’s that nexus between service and advocacy that makes Planned Parenthood such a threat to the right, just like ACORN was before it.
You remember ACORN, right? The unique community organization that worked at the neighborhood level to help America’s poor and disenfranchised with everyday challenges like banking, taxes, housing, and, of course, registering to vote? ACORN built a one-on-one relationship in economically disadvantaged communities nationwide, and then leveraged that support to lobby state and federal governments on issues like predatory lending, foreclosures, and community investment.
Then, through a series of manufactured scandals, ACORN was systematically defunded and dismantled, most memorably through the highly edited “sting” video of a faux-pimp seeking tax advice for himself and his ho. The Fox News crowd was outraged. Republicans investigated. Democrats caved. ACORN lost all federal funding and soon after closed its doors. The smear campaign was so effective that even some progressives fear defending ACORN.
Skip forward to January 2011, when right-wing activists released a highly edited “sting” video of a faux-pimp and his hos seeking counseling at Planned Parenthood clinics. The right cued Fox News outrage. They cued the congressional investigation and the calls to eliminate federal funding.
The right has also smeared NPR and PBS.
And now this.
Of course, Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker posted a video on Komen’s YouTube channel, where she said: “Regrettably, contrary to what some are saying, we are not pulling any existing grants. We will never bow to political pressure... the scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful.”
At its worst, the Komen Foundation and its anti-choice, Bush-connected executives are actively going after Planned Parenthood, exploiting trumped up allegations in an effort to destroy one of the few progressive organizations that makes an everyday impact on the lives of millions of Americans nationwide. At its best, Komen’s abject failure to defend Planned Parenthood makes it a passive collaborator in a calculated effort to cut off progressives (or perceived progressives) from the American people.
Don’t let them ACORN—it’s a verb now—Planned Parenthood.
So what can you do? Here are five ways you can give Komen the payback it deserves:
• Protest at the Komen gala. Their swank fundraiser on March 3 promises “exquisite dining, silent and live auctions and exceptional entertainment, all with the purpose of raising funds to further breast-cancer education, awareness, and science in the discovery of the cure,” say the promotional materials. But you don’t have to donate. Welcome the parade of Komen donors as they enter: Make a clever sign, form a pink picket line, dress up as a giant lumpy breast. Get their attention. The progressive Seattle stock that funds Komen also loves Planned Parenthood, and many of them surely detest that national politics are sullying a women’s health-care organization. Make it awkward for them to remain silent. And if you don’t want to be too confrontational, just wear a Planned Parenthood T-shirt. Everyone will understand. Just show up.
• Stop donating to Komen. It may sound harsh, but so is cutting funding for breast-cancer screenings to poor women around the country, right? The foundation raised roughly $400 million in the 2010 fiscal year, with 91.3 percent of that money coming from private donors. That is, donors like you. When someone asks you to pledge money for a Komen run or donate to a Komen project, figure out how much you would give and then give it to another organization doing breast-cancer work. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, one of the best cancer programs on earth and headquartered in Seattle, has run a breast-cancer research project since 1995. Send them your cash. Kate Harmer, the woman mentioned earlier who lost a mother to breast cancer and who participates in Komen’s Race for the Cure every year as “a way I remember and honor my mother,” is thinking it may be time to dial back her financial support. “I will still participate,” she says, “but I may not try to raise additional funds beyond the entry fee. While I support them, I may try to find ways to funnel more of my money toward supporting Planned Parenthood instead.” You should, too. One way to support Planned Parenthood is to…
• Give Komen the finger by making a donation to Planned Parenthood in Komen’s name. Here’s how you do it. Go to PlannedParenthood.org and hit the “Donate” button in the top right-hand corner of your screen. Then, instead of donating a “One Time Gift,” click on the “Honorary Giving” tab in the middle of your screen. Now you can donate money to Planned Parenthood while requesting that a “Thank you for donating!” card be sent to:
Karen Handel - Senior VP
c/o Susan G. Komen Foundation
P.O. Box 650309
Dallas, TX 75265
Just put in Handel’s address under the “Acknowledgments” section of your donation. (Handel is one of the anti-choice, right-wing nutbags guiding Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood.) This ensures that your funds go toward supporting much-needed breast-cancer screenings for women while sending Komen a strong message—i.e., don’t put ideology ahead of women’s reproductive health care. How much money does Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest need? Last year’s grants from Komen—a combined $75,000—allowed Planned Parenthood to do extensive education and perform clinical breast exams for more than 650 women in rural areas, particularly refugees, the poor, and ethnic minorities. “We would love to reapply to Komen to get more funding to do that again,” says local Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kristen Glundberg-Prossor. “We hope that they will reconsider this decision they have made. Women’s health shouldn’t be left to political whims, it’s too basic and too important to have this constant ideological battle about it.”
• Talk to people. If you’re pissed that Komen is being used as a political weapon, have this conversation with your friends. Put your opinion on Facebook, talk to all those women you know who wear pink, be pissed. Nobody has said it more succinctly than blogger ABL 2.0 at Balloon Juice, so here’s a script: “What a cruel irony this decision represents: The most renowned breast cancer awareness foundation is abandoning women (and some men, too) in need of breast-health services (primarily poor women and women in rural areas) and potentially leaving them to die, all in the name of ‘life.’ It’s sick. It’s time to send Komen for the Cure a message that it should reconsider its decision to participate in the partisan politics that are playing out on the backs, breasts, and in the uteri of women in this country.”
• Pressure elected officials. They can help beat Komen at its own transparent game. According to the Associated Press, that new rule that Komen is using to justify defunding Planned Parenthood pertains to any grant recipient under local, state, or congressional investigation. It doesn’t matter if the investigation lacks a legitimate concern of malfeasance or if the probe is purely political.
So how about this: Any city council member in the country, any state, or any congressperson could begin a cursory investigation into every single recipient of a Komen grant.
Investigate them all.
According to its new rule, Komen has to withdraw funding.
But Komen won't stop funding all of them. It will change its rule instead. And if the Komen board members want to continue to defund Planned Parenthood, which they do, at least they may be forced to explain the true politics behind their decision.