The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s off- and apparently on-again decision to fund Planned Parenthood mirrors a similar situation with AT&T more than two decades ago, with dissimilar results.
The telecommunications giant had been funding Planned Parenthood for 25 years. The grants were described as educational outreach for teens. But in 1990, AT&T, facing pressure and a boycott from pro-life groups, abruptly announced that it would cease donating to Planned Parenthood.
In a foreshadowing of what happened to the Komen Foundation in early February, AT&T immediately found itself the target of a bitter campaign to force it to restore Planned Parenthood funding.
The leadership of Planned Parenthood sprang into action. Prominent in Planned Parenthood’s effort to reverse AT&T’s decision was an ad campaign that featured full-page advertisements in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and other major news outlets.
“Caving to Extremists, AT&T Hangs Up on Planned Parenthood,” read the headline.
Included with the ads was a message to be clipped out and sent to AT&T.
But it didn’t work. AT&T stayed tough and has never restored the Planned Parenthood funding. Does this bode well for Komen, which initially said it was ceasing to fund Planned Parenthood, only to appear to reverse itself in an apologetic statement a few days later?
“You almost have to be a multibillion-dollar corporation to withstand the assaults of Planned Parenthood,” said an insider who has been in touch with Komen personnel over this issue and spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that Komen is the “perfect target” for Planned Parenthood because it must appeal to a broad spectrum of the public to raise money.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the leading fundraiser for breast-cancer research in the country, affirmed Jan. 31 it intended to stop providing funds to Planned Parenthood. Komen, famous for its “pink” campaigns to raise awareness about the risks of breast cancer and raise money for research, provided annual grants to support breast screenings at various Planned Parenthood affiliates.
Last year, Komen adopted a policy against giving any funds to organizations currently under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. Planned Parenthood is under investigation on several fronts, most notably by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Stearns is conducting an investigation to determine if public funds were used to provide abortions.
Although the investigation initially was given as the primary cause of the decision, another factor is the restructuring of the Komen grant process. In a subsequent release, Komen stated that “we invested $93 million in community health programs, which included 700,000 mammograms. Additionally, we began an initiative to further strengthen our grants program to be even more outcomes-driven and to allow for even greater investments in programs that directly serve women. We also implemented more stringent eligibility and performance criteria to support these strategies.”
This means that Komen wanted to get money to the places providing the services. Planned Parenthood facilities are not equipped with mammography systems. They performed a breast exam, and then referred the patient to another facility.
Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, has claimed in the past that cutting funds to her organization would cause “millions” of women to go without mammograms. Last year, activist Lila Rose of Live Action contacted 30 Planned Parenthood facilities in 27 states. Not one performed mammograms.
“I am deeply disappointed by the news that the Susan G. Komen Foundation appears to have reversed their decision on cutting funding to Planned Parenthood,” Rose said in an email. “For years, the pro-life movement has encouraged Komen to sever all ties from Planned Parenthood, as they are the largest abortion provider in the U.S., under both federal and state investigation, and have been documented covering up child sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
“The Susan G. Komen Foundation is the most influential breast-cancer foundation in America and should distance themselves from an organization that cares more about abortion than women’s health and well-being,” she said.
In its 30-year existence, Komen has raised more than $2 billion to inform women of the risk of breast cancer, providing screenings for the disease and funding research into defeating it.
Nineteen Planned Parenthood affiliates received $680,000 last year to provide breast screenings for low-income women. Five grants from Komen to Planned Parenthood are still outstanding and under contract.
In some ways, the AT&T and Komen situations are parallel. In both cases, pressure to end the relationship with Planned Parenthood by pro-life groups appears to have been a key factor in both cases.
Planned Parenthood blamed pressure from pro-life advocates for the defunding.
Cecile Richards told The Associated Press, “It’s hard to understand how an organization with whom we share a mission of saving women’s lives could have bowed to this kind of bullying. It’s really hurtful.”
A Los Angeles Times story detailed the kind of criticism Komen was getting from pro-lifers. It quoted minority women’s health activist Eve Sanchez Silver, who had been an enthusiastic member of a Komen advisory board for minority women.
But, in 2004, Silver learned of the organization’s ties to Planned Parenthood and resigned from the board. “You cannot be a life-affirming organization in league with an organization that kills people,” Silver told the L.A. daily.
Silver was not alone in thinking this way.
“The pressure from Americans who wanted Komen to get out of its relationship with Planned Parenthood was immense, ongoing and time-consuming,” said the insider who has been in touch with Komen personnel over this issue. Komen personnel decided the proper course of action would be to end the relationship with Planned Parenthood and avoid taking any stand on the issue of abortion.
“They wanted to get out of the culture war,” the source explained. “They wanted to become neutral in the culture war. They have spent years getting pummeled by people who do not believe a cancer organization should be supporting the largest abortion provider in our country.”
Komen quietly reached a decision to end funding for Planned Parenthood late last year. Instead of saying it wanted to remain neutral on the abortion issue, Komen said it could more effectively monitor how donations were used if it gave money directly to front-line providers of mammograms.
Several published blogs and newspaper accounts have named Karen Handel, Komen’s new vice president of public policy and a pro-life Georgia politician who previously ran unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia, as the source of the decision. Handel has resigned in the wake of the controversy.
The source who spoke to the Register on condition of anonymity said that the final decision was made by Komen CEO and founder Nancy Brinker (whose sister, Susan Komen, died of breast cancer) and Komen’s president, Elizabeth Thompson.
Strangely, Komen did not make a public statement about what was undeniably an important policy change.
“We didn’t tell anyone except Planned Parenthood,” John Raffaelli, a Komen board member and prominent Washington lobbyist, told The New York Times. “We wanted to keep it quiet. We didn’t intend for this to be perceived as a victory for anybody. The whole approach was to not issue press releases to do anything to hurt Planned Parenthood.”
Despite Komen’s attempts to keep a lid on the subject, the story broke Jan. 31, and immediately Komen was the target of angry emails and postings on its Facebook page. No fewer than 26 pro-abortion members of the U.S. Senate added to the fray.
Several pro-life leaders referred to the campaign against Komen as comparable to a “mafia shakedown” led by Planned Parenthood. Both Komen and Planned Parenthood reported dramatic upswings in donations as the controversy went public.
But Komen appeared to reverse itself when it issued a contrite statement that began with the words, “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.”
Parsers of that Feb. 3 statement, however, remain uncertain as to whether it is truly a reversal: It only says that Planned Parenthood is eligible to apply for future grants.
“My bet is that Planned Parenthood will flood Komen with grant applications this year,” said the source — as in: They are going to double-dog dare Komen to turn any of them down.
Board member Raffaelli observed that Komen remains in an uncomfortable position.
“Is it possible for a woman’s health organization to stay out of the abortion issue and help all women?” Raffaelli asked in The New York Times story. “I don’t know the answer to that yet. What we were doing before was angering the right-to-life crowd. Then, with our decision in December, we upset the pro-choice crowd. And now we’re going to make the right-to-life crowd mad all over again. How do we stop doing that?”
Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, concurred that the latest Komen statement stops far short of promising future funding to Planned Parenthood. An email to Komen requesting a comment on this had not received a reply by deadline.
“As a breast-cancer survivor,” Yoest said, “I am troubled that the Komen Foundation has come under such heavy fire for their recent decision to tighten and focus their funding guidelines.” Yoest also characterized the campaign against Komen as “a shakedown.”
“As a pro-life breast-cancer survivor,” said Elizabeth Kantor, an editor and writer in Washington, D.C., “I was really excited to learn that the Susan G. Komen Foundation would no longer support Planned Parenthood. Today, I was very disappointed to hear that the Komen Foundation seems to have bowed to pressure and reversed their decision.”
“It’s frightening and depressing that the abortion lobby has so much power,” Kantor continued. “Susan G. Komen is supposed to be about fighting breast cancer. Why should they be browbeaten into supporting an organization that does hundreds of thousands of abortions a year? Now I get to look forward to more of those awkward conversations where I have to explain to my neighbors, friends and family that, no, I can’t really be on board with their well-intentioned fundraisers [on behalf of Komen].”
Planned Parenthood can do just fine without Komen’s money — which came in at around $680,000 last year — so why is it so important?
The earlier dust-up with AT&T may shed light on that question.
Faye Wattleton, who was president of Planned Parenthood at the time of the AT&T controversy, summed it up in her book Life on the Line. “Corporate support was only about 5% of our budget,” Wattleton wrote, “but it meant a great deal to us. The credibility that such endorsements bestowed was at least as valuable as the actual dollars given.”
Could it be that the mere association with Komen is more important to Planned Parenthood than the money?
Register correspondent Thomas L. McDonald contributed to this report.
Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.