The Sudden Pink War: Making Sense of the Komen/Planned Parenthood Rift

women arguing over reproductive rightsBy now, chances are you’ve seen the news that the Susan G. Komen Foundation defunded its support of Planned Parenthood, which it had established in 2005. Pressure for the foundation to stop the support began almost immediately, and the national Susan G. Komen board resisted this pressure until yesterday. I spoke with Gina Popovic, Executive Vice President of the Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, who stressed that Komen is not the bad actor in all of this, the anti-choice activists are.

“We don’t want a pink on pink war,” said Ms. Popovic.

One of the first thoughts to cross my mind when I read the headline on the Washington Post about Komen’s PP defunding was the completely inaccurate statement that Senator John Kyl made last April:

Everybody goes to clinics, to hospitals, to doctors, and so on. Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.

Actually, I checked. Planned Parenthood will check women’s cholesterol and blood pressure, as part of an annual exam. In greater context, Planned Parenthood has been in the crosshairs of anti-choice activists for many years now. They’ve survived the threat of a federal ban on funding, even when they perform annual exam services and do preventive care. They dodged an attempt last year on the part of a few Republican-led state legislatures to take away their Medicare funding because the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services itself stepped in and told those states they would lose all of their Medicare funding if they tried to strip abortion providers like Planned Parenthood of their support.

Since the 2010 midterm elections, all manner of anti-choice bills have wended their ways through state chambers, many getting signed into law. Extended waiting periods to terminate a pregnancy are some of the newer ways to push back the window of choice for women; if a state has legalized a cutoff of 20 weeks to receive an abortion, then insisting on a 14-day waiting period essentially shortens that cutoff to 18 weeks. Bans on later-term abortions, insisting that clients watch ultrasound of their embryos, stricter provisions on informing whoever is assumed to have paternity, or one’s own parents have all had a floor debate in the states.

Even beyond the legislative measures, anti-abortion rhetoric has notched up during the GOP primary season in advance of this summer’s general election, as Republican candidates jockeyed for attention from the electorate. Herman Cain insisted he was against abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Rick Santorum suggested rape victims should “make the best out of a bad situation” and take their pregnancies to term. Rick Perry, formerly softer on the issue of abortion, made the case that he had gone through a “transformation” and now only supported making all abortion illegal, no matter the circumstances. Across the country, the pressure is relentless to find new, inventive, and clever ways to shut down a woman’s right to reproductive choice.

The reporting on the anti-abortion fervor on the Susan G. Komen national board threw out large dollar figures that now won’t be flowing to Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country. Looking at the numbers for my local PPGWNI organization humanizes the stakes for me: 300 women who came in to the ten Planned Parenthood offices in eastern Washington and Idaho last year were referred to specialists for advanced breast health care, paid for by the Komen funds. Since 2008 PPGWNI received just under $80,000 from Komen. The money they took in was paid out in nurses’ salaries and in specialists’ fees when patients were referred for care. And without this money, some women will be turned away. The stakes for women’s health could not be higher—already there are known disparities in health care quality and outcomes for poorer women and women who are underinsured or uninsured.

Breast cancer remains the second most common cancer among women in the United States, and socioeconomic status has been shown to be a significant factor in the stage at which breast cancer is diagnosed, as well as mortality.

Karl Eastlund, President and CEO of PPGWNI, said, “This is really unfortunate for women. There’s a sad reality here.”

Indeed, when one pulls back from the abstract anti-choice messaging about ending abortion in the United States, we see that we’re also taking away women’s access to health care. And not just women, but some of the most vulnerable women who utilize low-cost and free clinics for their preventative and urgent care, for family planning, and for treatment. Perhaps there’s a difference then, between “women’s health” and “feminist health.” While the Susan G. Komen Foundation continues to tout its emphasis on early screening and detection, it won’t be supporting such activities if they occur at clinics that someone on Capitol Hill has decided to investigate.

In response, PPGWNI has established the Emergency Breast Health Fund, and Mr. Eastlund reports that just this morning donors are walking into his office with checks of support. Certainly Komen has seen a wave of anger on its Facebook and Twitter pages, with many women declaring they will no longer participate in their fundraising. Many of Komen’s local boards across the country are also disappointed and dismayed, as they received news of the national Komen group’s new rule making in the same email that was sent to Planned Parenthood affiliates. If this truly is a case where a vocal few have overruled a majority, more changes may be afoot at the smaller local Komen boards. But the national Komen board is committed to its shift, and once again, Planned Parenthood will have to respond to what has become a relentless push by anti-abortion activists, who seem all too willing to make women’s access to health services a casualty in their war on reproductive rights.

To get more involved with Planned Parenthood’s mission, check out their Web site.

This article is cross-posted at Bitch Magazine’s blog.

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6 Comments on “The Sudden Pink War: Making Sense of the Komen/Planned Parenthood Rift”

  1. February 1, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    I appreciate Ms. Popovic’s efforts at calming the waters, and I appreciate that all manner of anti-choice activists are taking credit for this, but this wasn’t the result of external forces. The anti-choice activists are in Komen, on its board, in its executive offices, making the decisions. Komen is a bad actor here, and I think it’s reasonable — not to mention truthful — to recognize that and call them on it.

    • evmaroon
      February 1, 2012 at 10:52 am #

      Absolutely, this even doesn’t occur unless the board at Komen makes it so. To agree that they won’t work with any organization under investigation on the Hill is also ludicrous because investigations are so often themselves politically motivated and without cause. But the national board is not the entirety of the foundation, and there are many actors on the local Komen boards who are as outraged at this decision as Planned Parenthood supporters are. Any organization as large as the Susan G. Komen Foundation winds up being bigger than the sum of its parts, and there is good work that they’re doing — say, in funding research and in funding studies on reducing disparities — that flies in the face of this defunding decision. Time will tell if the anti-choice members of the decision-making national board curtail those activities, too, or if we will see an exodus of moderate and liberal people from the local Komen boards and organizations. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood needs to identify more and more diverse support so it can avoid awful things like furloughs, layoffs, and limiting office availability.

  2. Barbara
    February 1, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    I can’t entirely agree with the statement that Komen is not the bad actor. What the f* kind of a policy is one that “prohibits grants to organizations being investigated by local, state or federal authorities”? (Quoting the NYT article; there are others.) That’s the most wrongheaded rule I’ve heard of in a while. I particularly dislike the consequences here but also dislike the broadness of the rule and the suggestion that being investigated means you did… what? Something Bad? I have no idea how common this is but it frankly seems, I daresay, un-American.

    • evmaroon
      February 1, 2012 at 10:54 am #

      It’s most definitely un-American. And disingenuous, as is the “we’re all about reducing disparities in breast cancer” while shutting out one of the strongest clinical organizations in the country with a history of providing health care to vulnerable/marginalized women.

  3. Barbara
    February 1, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    And, what Amadi said!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Obsessed: GOP Men with Women’s Reproduction | Trans/plant/portation - February 21, 2012

    [...] these restrictions haven’t been enough for anti-choice leaders. There was the Susan G. Komen defunding of Planned Parenthood. Then the GOP candidates began bloviating about not making any abortion exceptions in cases of rape [...]

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