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02.04.12

Arguments Against the Komen Decision to Defund Planned Parenthood

When the Komen Foundation defunded its cancer-screening grants for Planned Parenthood, the response was both swift and fierce—and apparently convincing, given the organization’s reversal of its decision on Friday. The Daily Beast compiles the counterarguments.

MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Gets Personal 

As a firestorm raged on Thursday over Susan G. Komen Foundation’s yanking of Planned Parenthood funds, breast-cancer survivor and MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell got personal in an interview with Komen chief Nancy Brinker. They were discussing the defunding controversy (the money supported Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide breast-cancer screenings) when Mitchell cut to the chase. “Let me just put out there, first of all, I have been identified as an outspoken supporter and participant in the races over the years long before I, myself, ended up being diagnosed with breast cancer,” the MSNBC host said matter-of-factly. It was a tense moment between the two women, who have known each other for a long time through the Komen foundation and during the years that Brinker served as a diplomat at the State Department. “But I come to you today expressing the anger of a lot of people,” Mitchell added. 

Komen Affiliates Protest

Not every Komen affiliate backed the Planned Parenthood funding cuts. Mollie Williams, Komen’s director of community-health programs, resigned in protest. In a resignation email, Williams wrote that she had firmly believed “it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission,” though she concluded she hoped that the conflict between the two organizations would be resolved. Meanwhile, the email inbox of Komen’s Connecticut branch was flooded with supportive messages after it expressed frustration about the new cuts. In California, all seven Komen affiliates wrote a joint letter to their congressional delegation saying they “strongly opposed” the policy change. A member of Komen’s medical-advisory board in New York City threatened to resign as well, while Komen’s affiliate board in Arkansas called for the new policy to be reversed. 

Bloomberg Matches Grant

Supporters were quick to pony up to help Planned Parenthood with its $700,000 shortfall. Perhaps the most prominent individual donation was a matching grant proffered by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who pledged to match every dollar raised to fill the cash gap up to $250,000. In a statement, Bloomberg made clear his feelings about the separation of health care and political agendas. “Breast-cancer screening saves lives, and hundreds of thousands of women rely on Planned Parenthood for access to care,” the mayor said. “We should be helping women access that care, not placing barriers in their way.” Bloomberg publicized his matching grant on his Twitter feed.

Karen Handel

Much of the controversy dates back to Komen’s decision to hire Karen Handel, an outspoken anti-abortion politician who vowed to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood during her unsuccessful gubernatorial run in Georgia. Komen officials denied that Handel, who was hired as the organization’s vice president of public policy in April 2011, had a hand in the decision. But many observers couldn’t help but make the connection.

Calls for Resignations

In the wake of the controversy, at least one bioethicist has called on the Komen foundation’s executive board to resign. Writing for MSNBC.com, Art Caplan says the decision to defund Planned Parenthood, though short-lived, has irreparably harmed the organization. “It is almost too little, too late for Susan G. Komen for the Cure,” says Caplan. “When the organization chose to cut funding to Planned Parenthood that paid for breast cancer screenings, it planted itself clumsily and unnecessarily in the middle of America’s wars over abortion and mortally wounded its reputation. It doesn’t matter that they have now apparently reversed that decision.” 

Social-Media Backlash

Bloomberg was one of many who took their outrage to Twitter. The news generated a tremendous surge in Twitter traffic, with tweeters in California, New York, and Texas leading the charge. They thumbed out an average of 3,000 Komen-related missives an hour, with a surge of more than 15,000 messages posted after the news initially broke. Others posted messages on Facebook, Google Plus, and even Komen’s own message board.

Race Scrapped

The American Association of University Women said it was scrapping plans to offer a Komen Race for the Cure as one of the activities at its upcoming National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. The group’s director of public policy said, “AAUW is disappointed that some are playing politics with women’s health and jeopardizing care for the most vulnerable among us.”   

Call to Reconsider

Twenty-six Democratic senators lent their names to the debate Thursday, signing a letter to Komen chief Nancy Brinker asking her to rethink her choice. “It would be tragic if any woman—let alone thousands of women—lost access to these potentially life-saving screenings because of a politically motivated attack,” the letter read. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey led the initiative, and was joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, among others.