Komen Troubles Attributed to Planned Parenthood Controversy

The breast-cancer charity experiences a decline in participation in its fundraising walks, amid continuing criticism of its contributions to the abortion provider.

DALLAS — When Dr. Judith Salerno, the new CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, officially steps into her new job on Sept. 9, she will do so with the blessings of Planned Parenthood.

In 2012, the abortion provider waged a successful public-relations campaign to force Komen, which supports initiatives to fight breast cancer, to reverse a controversial decision to discontinue voluntary financial grants to Planned Parenthood. Now, two years later, the abortion group greeted the appointment of Salerno with warm words.

“We wish Dr. Salerno well in this important new role, and we’re proud of our continued partnerships with Komen and others to ensure that all women, regardless of income, have access to information and high-quality health care to prevent, detect and treat breast cancer,” Eric Ferrero, Planned Parenthood’s vice president for communications, said in a statement. Calls to Planned Parenthood asking for additional information were not returned.

Salerno’s appointment comes on the heels of Komen’s June announcement that the nonprofit is cutting back on its trademark three-day walks, an important fundraising vehicle, in seven of the 14 cities that traditionally participate. The New York Daily News quoted a Komen spokeswoman saying that participation in the walks had declined by 37% in the last four years. People who walk in the events are required to raise $2,300 for Komen. Cities that were not reaching fundraising goals were eliminated.

There is dueling ownership of the Komen funding troubles: Pro-lifers claim it is because the charity reinstated the Planned Parenthood grants, while Planned Parenthood supporters assert that Komen’s temporary effort to extricate itself from Planned Parenthood is responsible for the decline in participation.

Salerno, 61, currently chief operating officer of the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit that helped the Obama administration to develop a list of mandated “preventive services,” including co-pay-free contraception, was named in June to succeed Komen founder Nancy Brinker, 67.

Brinker founded the Dallas-based nonprofit, known for its ubiquitous pink ribbons and fundraising races, to honor the memory of her sister, who died of breast cancer in 1980. Brinker had been reluctant to relinquish the top job, according to a story in The Washington Post, but will remain at Komen in a lesser role, concentrating on fundraising and strategic planning.

Salerno said in a statement released by the nonprofit, “Komen’s commitment has helped countless numbers of low-income and medically underserved women and men get care they might otherwise have gone without, and Komen’s research program is one of the most highly respected in the nation.”

Salerno declined to give her position on abortion in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, dismissing it as irrelevant to her new appointment. She said that Komen had “turned the corner” and was moving on from the flap over Planned Parenthood funding.


‘We Aren’t Going Away’

Not everybody agrees. "She’ll be perfect for what Planned Parenthood wants,” Doug Scott, president of Life Decisions International, an organization that keeps tabs on Planned Parenthood, said of the appointment.

He was not in a conciliatory mood. “It’s important for Komen to understand that we aren’t going away,” he said. Life Decisions International lists businesses that contribute to Planned Parenthood on its website.

Salerno “did say that health is not a partisan issue, and pro-lifers should hold her to that,” said Rachel Bohannon, former communications manager for Texas Right to Life. “She needs to crack down on those pass-through grants to Planned Parenthood.”

However, Bohannon doesn’t expect Komen to keep its distance from Planned Parenthood under Salerno. “Once you’re in bed with Planned Parenthood, and they are bad bedfellows, you can’t leave. Komen was no match for them.”

Although Salerno’s position on abortion is not part of the public record, it is possible to get a glimmer of her political views. The Dallas Morning News described Salerno, a graduate of Harvard Medical School and an expert on obesity and geriatrics, as having “leanings toward the Democratic Party.”

The newspaper cited records that show that Salerno made small contributions — from $35 to $50 — to the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. “Go Joe! Biden is whooping the Wonk from Wisconsin [Republican Rep. Paul Ryan] — by telling the truth,” she reportedly tweeted during the vice-presidential debate.


Institute of Medicine Affiliation

Of particular concern, Scott and other pro-lifers said, is Salerno’s affiliation with the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Americans United for Life (AUL) didn’t comment on Salerno’s appointment, but the pro-life organization produced a paper indicating that the Institute of Medicine was involved in deciding which medical procedures would be mandatory under Obamacare.

The Institute of Medicine was appointed by the Obama administration to run a series of public forums that provided an opportunity for various groups and experts to provide guidance on what services should be included in the Health and Human Services’ mandated “preventive services, authorized under the new health law."

The AUL paper concluded that it was “unsurprising” that the Obama administration ultimately embraced contraception as an essential medical service. The study noted that “nearly every invited presenter [at IOM hearings on essential medical services] urged the inclusion of all FDA-approved contraceptives in the mandate, without addressing any conscience concerns for Americans who oppose drugs and devices with life-ending mechanisms of action.”

When the Register contacted Komen headquarters in Dallas with questions, spokeswoman Andrea Rader responded that Salerno was unavailable for comment.

“Judy is out of the country at the moment on IOM business and will be transitioning over the summer, so we wouldn’t be able to arrange an interview with her,” said Rader, who did not address the Register’s questions, which were not specifically addressed to Salerno.


Public Ordeal

Last year, Komen’s image-shattering public ordeal began after it decided to halt its financial grants to Planned Parenthood and quickly provoked an aggressive response from the abortion provider and its allies in politics and the media. Komen’s decision to discontinue the grants to Planned Parenthood, totaling $680,000 in 2011, was prompted by mounting pressure from the pro-life community to sever the connection.

While many pro-lifers simply refrained from contributing, others wrote impassioned letters to Komen. In 2011, Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, wrote a letter that urged Catholics not to contribute to Komen, citing the Planned Parenthood ties.

Caught in the middle between Planned Parenthood and the pro-life movement, top Komen officials approached Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), for advice in extricating the breast cancer group from the uncomfortable situation. Then Komen-president Liz Thompson told Ruse, according to a narrative of the debacle published in Crisis magazine, that she spent half her time dealing with the Planned Parenthood issue and that she wanted “out of the culture wars.”

Another member of the Komen staff eager to get out of the relationship with Planned Parenthood was Karen Handel, who had become executive vice president of public policy for Komen in 2011. Several newspaper reports tied Komen’s attempt to ditch Planned Parenthood to the efforts of Handel, a pro-life Georgia politician, who resigned in the wake of the controversy that erupted.

Handel, who is now running for the Senate in Georgia, wrote a book on the controversy entitled Planned Bullyhood that tells her side of the story.

When Komen officials asked for his guidance, Ruse advised that the grants be withdrawn quietly over a period of several years and without an official announcement. However, according to Ruse’s Crisis magazine account of the fiasco, there was soon a leak to the press. Planned Parenthood sprang into action, quickly mounting a campaign against Komen.


Vitriolic Campaign

Komen was deluged with angry emails and postings on its Facebook page. Prominent members of the media, such as NBC's and MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who said on camera that she was “channeling” the “anger” many people felt towards Komen, got into the act.

Twenty-six members of the U.S. Senate, led by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Democrats from Washington, joined the fray with a blistering letter charging that Komen’s decision to discontinue the grants was “politically motivated” and urging Komen to resume funding of Planned Parenthood.

The campaign against Komen was so vitriolic that The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto wrote that it was “analogous to a protection racket: Nice charity you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Subjected to a barrage of attacks from Planned Parenthood and the press, Komen quickly apologized and backtracked within three days, announcing that it would continue the grants to Planned Parenthood.

During a Feb. 3, 2012, interview with the Register, Ruse called the Planned Parenthood campaign “nothing short of a Mafia shakedown,” while Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, issued a statement saying that she was “heartened” that Planned Parenthood’s “treasured relationship” with Komen would continue.

More recently, Ruse told the Register on June 25 that Planned Parenthood was victorious in its contest with the cancer charity.

“Planned Parenthood won in every way imaginable. They brought Komen to heel. They showed their allies care more about abortion, their main line of business, than in women’s health. They brought in more funding over and above what they temporarily lost from Komen. They spurred a national debate about a war on women, and they helped elect the most pro-abortion president in history,” said Ruse.

“There is no way in which Planned Parenthood did not win.”


Lack of Pro-Life Support

American Life League's vice president, Jim Fedlak, who runs a program called STOPP (Stop Planned Parenthood), predicted that Salerno’s efforts to re-establish Komen’s credibility would be hampered because pro-lifers will not support Komen.

“The whole episode with Planned Parenthood convinced pro-lifers that Komen was in fact donating to Planned Parenthood. They hadn’t realized it up to then,” said Fedlak. "She won’t succeed because pro-lifers will counsel people to stay away from Komen and look for other places to donate their money.”

Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.