The Tragic, Craven Undoing of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Noble Mission

Whether they like it or not, defunding Planned Parenthood's breast health programs makes Susan G. Komen Foundation look anti-choice. And of course, poor women of color will suffer most.

By Akiba Solomon Feb 01, 2012

Even if radical anti-choice politics didn’t motivate Susan G. Komen for the Cure to discontinue its breast cancer screening, referral and education grants to Planned Parenthood, the damage is done all the same. 

Before yesterday, the pink ribbon symbolized fundraising races, individual stories of breast cancer survival and not-very-attractive merchandise. Now, as far as I’m concerned, it’s synonymous with Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the staunchly anti-choice legislator who last September launched a sweeping audit of Planned Parenthood’s spending and practices dating back to 1998.

Yesterday a Komen spokesperson told the Associated Press that the foundation, which has raised more than $1 billion for breast cancer research, education and prevention, had simply changed its funding policies to exclude any organization under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. But in a widely circulated statement, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards cried foul:

"Over the past five years, Komen funds have enabled Planned Parenthood health centers to provide nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams and referrals for more than 6,400 mammograms. These cancer detection and prevention programs saved the lives of women who often had nowhere else to turn for care.

But when anti-choice groups began criticizing the Komen Foundation for partnering with Planned Parenthood, the foundation ended its support for Planned Parenthood health centers. We know our opponents put their ideology over women’s health and lives. What we never expected is that an ally like the Komen Foundation would choose to listen to them."

And as Feministing noted yesterday, Komen’s new senior vice president for public policy, Karen Handel, pledged to defund Planned Parenthood when she was running for Georgia governor with Sarah Palin’s endorsement.

At the center of this debacle are, of course, the poor, often rural women who rely on the free or low-cost clinical breast exams, referrals and followup provided by Planned Parenthood. By Komen’s own account, socioeconomic factors (translation: being po’) are likely contributors to the high breast cancer mortality rates of black and Latina women. Here’s more of the race story, from a very useful Komen fact sheet:

White women have a higher rate of developing breast cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. However, among women under age 40, African Americans have a higher incidence of breast cancer than white women. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with larger tumors than white women.

Hispanic/Latina women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than white women. They are more likely to be diagnosed with larger tumors and late stage breast cancer than white women.

When Asian women migrate to the U.S., their risk of developing breast cancer increases up to six-fold. Asian immigrant women living in the U.S. for as little as a decade had an 80 percent higher risk of breast cancer than new immigrants.

The last bit about Asian immigrant women is really striking. Perhaps that’s why Komen has funded Planned Parenthood breast health education programs designed to reach Vietnamese women in hair and nail salons and other places where they meet. Is Rep. Stearns going to cover the cost of this kind of programming now that it’s gone?

Anyway, on Twitter, Facebook and Komen’s own message board, I’m seeing calls for pink ribbon boycotts and the firing of Handel. I don’t have a dog in that fight. But like so many women who believe the politics don’t belong in my damn uterus, that poor women deserve breast healthcare just like middle class and rich women and that women of color shouldn’t be casualties of war, I’m supremely disappointed that Komen would risk even the appearance of pandering to Republicans who refuse to meaningfully fund healthcare and therefore make Planned Parenthood so necessary. And if Komen takes a financial hit, I wonder which grants will go first.