The Susan G. Komen Foundation v. Planned Parenthood


Update: The Susan G. Komen Foundation has reversed its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

I doubt the board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation had any idea what sort of blowback they were going to get when Planned Parenthood announced that Komen had decided to stop funding some of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer work. After all, the Susan G. Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood have been, in some ways, mirror images of each other in recent years, at least as far as public perception is concerned. The Komen Foundation is pink ribbons and races for the cure and corporate tie-ins and–until this week–maybe the safest corporate donation a company could make, whereas Planned Parenthood has been demonized by right-wing activists and politicians alike as a pro-abortion, pro-child sexual abuse haven of sin and degradation.

But the blowback has been fierce and swift, and most importantly, deserved. People who work with nonprofits have complained about the Komen Foundation for years, from their abusive trademark strategy (where they threaten to sue anyone who uses the phrase “for the cure” or “to the cure” or a pink ribbon) to the way their size makes it harder for smaller nonprofits to raise money, to the salaries of their top executives, to the way breast cancer has become, in some ways, the only women’s disease which matters.

It’s been interesting to see this public relations disaster unfold. It’s obvious that Komen didn’t expect the backlash, because the first reason they gave for cutting Planned Parenthood was that they couldn’t give money to any group that’s currently under investigation by any governmental body. That didn’t last long. Next it was in order to be more efficient with their funds. None of this, they said, was political.

If you’re going to believe that this isn’t political, you should probably ignore this tweet (deleted not long after it went up, but screenshots are forever) by Karen Handel, former Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate and current Komen senior vice president for public policy.

You should probably also ignore Handel’s own statements about Planned Parenthood, made when she was running for governor.

But not political. Nothing to see here. Move along.

And why should Komen have worried? Right-wing activists and anti-choice groups have done a pretty good job of making it seem like all Planned Parenthood does is perform abortions (not that there would be anything wrong with that). Last year, former Senator Jon Kyl illustrated that on the floor of the Senate when he claimed that abortion was “well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does.” His staff later retracted that claim with the famous line “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement.” In fact, abortion is about 3% of what Planned Parenthood does.

I like how Jill Lepore illustrated the divide. She wrote “In American politics, women’s bodies are not bodies, but parts. People like to talk about some parts more than others.” This controversy has thrown that divide into high relief.

Komen has been successful thus far because they’ve dodged controversy. They were an easy charity to support–buy some yogurt, buy some batteries, watch NFL players wear pink wristbands and buy them at auction the next day–and you feel like you’ve done something good. No need to question whether the money is going to actual research or just to “education and awareness.” Buying a product with a pink ribbon marked you as a good person, one who hates breast cancer. And who doesn’t hate breast cancer?

Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, offers real services to real women who are often underserved by our ridiculous system of medical care in this country, and some of those services are–to some–controversial. And so you won’t see Planned Parenthood phone cases or water bottles or yogurt containers or money-raising runs with slick advertising and corporate sponsorships. But you will see doctors and low-cost (or no-cost) healthcare services–including mammography referrals, and yes, abortions–all of which make the lives of real women better. I know where my money is going.

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →