Susan G. Komen Vs. Planned Parenthood

No Need To Hide It
No Need To Hide It

The Economist writes that, in balance, Susan G Komen for the Cure of Anti-Choice Women Only might be the loser in their misguided war against half (or more?*) of the women in the US.

It’s a cynical thing to say, but I suspect this might cost Susan G. Komen more than it does Planned Parenthood. The former has long been criticised for sugar-coating or even commercialising breast cancer. See Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 essay “Welcome to Cancerland” for an elegant indictment:

What has grown up around breast cancer in just the last fifteen years more nearly resembles a cult—or, given that it numbers more than two million women, their families, and friends—perhaps we should say a full-fledged religion. The products—teddy bears, pink-ribbon brooches, and so forth—serve as amulets and talismans, comforting the sufferer and providing visible evidence of faith. The personal narratives serve as testimonials and follow the same general arc as the confessional autobiographies required of seventeenth-century Puritans: first there is a crisis, often involving a sudden apprehension of mortality (the diagnosis or, in the old Puritan case, a stem word from on high); then comes a prolonged ordeal (the treatment or, in the religious case, internal struggle with the Devil); and finally, the blessed certainty of salvation, or its breast-cancer equivalent, survivorhood.

Planned Parenthood, by contrast, serves several million people a year; mostly women, but also men. The bulk of its activities are focused on contraception, STI screening, and cancer screening, and it places a particular emphasis on providing reproductive health care to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access. They also provide abortions, which are controversial, obviously, but legal, obviously. And insofar as access to contraception and other family-planning services reduces the demand for abortion, Planned Parenthood also prevents abortion. In my view, it is an important part of civil society. Even from a pro-life position, I would think it qualifies: being pro-life is a coherent moral position, and not one that necessarily implies a lack of concern for women’s health. So I really don’t understand why Planned Parenthood gets so much grief from the right. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I understand what the complaints are, but I’m not really convinced. Last year, for example, Kathryn Jean Lopez published an admiring interview with Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life activist. Among other things, Ms Johnson said that Planned Parenthood should be defunded:

Planned Parenthood is an organization that does not provide quality health care. Our tax money should go to organizations that provide comprehensive care to women, men, and children. There are better uses of our money. Planned Parenthood provides shabby, limited health care. Why would we want women to get some health care when they can go to a different clinic, other than Planned Parenthood, and receive total health care? That makes some sense—Planned Parenthood doesn’t focus on comprehensive health care—but what clinics is she talking about? The emergency room? Crisis pregnancy centres?

(click here to continue reading Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood: The rift | The Economist.)

Artemis of Ephesus: Vatican Museum, 1993
Artemis of Ephesus: Vatican Museum, 1993

Kaiser Health’s blog, of all places, has a pretty good roundup of national media coverage on the dustup, including articles from the NYT, LA Times, NPR, AP, Texas Tribune, and others.

Wages of Sin and a Pink Caddy
Wages of Sin and a Pink Caddy

And Mollie Williams, former top public health official at the organization, resigned in protest. I guess she isn’t one of the three sources Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with…

But three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut-off Planned Parenthood. (Komen gives out grants to roughly 2,000 organizations, and the new “no-investigations” rule applies to only one so far.) The decision to create a rule that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to these sources, was driven by the organization’s new senior vice-president for public policy, Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who is staunchly anti-abortion and who has said that since she is “pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.” (The Komen grants to Planned Parenthood did not pay for abortion or contraception services, only cancer detection, according to all parties involved.) I’ve tried to reach Handel for comment, and will update this post if I speak with her.

The decision, made in December, caused an uproar inside Komen. Three sources told me that the organization’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood. Williams, who served as the managing director of community health programs, was responsible for directing the distribution of $93 million in annual grants. Williams declined to comment when I reached her yesterday on whether she had resigned her position in protest, and she declined to speak about any other aspects of the controversy.

But John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen’s senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public relations aspects of Komen’s Planned Parenthood grant, said that Williams believed she could not honorably serve in her position once Komen had caved to pressure from the anti-abortion right. “Mollie is one of the most highly respected and ethical people inside the organization, and she felt she couldn’t continue under these conditions,” Hammarley said. “The Komen board of directors are very politically savvy folks, and I think over time they thought if they gave in to the very aggressive propaganda machine of the anti-abortion groups, that the issue would go away. It seemed very short-sighted to me.”

(click here to continue reading Top Susan G. Komen Official Resigned Over Planned Parenthood Cave-In – Politics – The Atlantic.)

Kudos to Ms. Williams…

*I was looking for reliable statistics regarding how many American women are pro-choice, and haven’t found the stats yet. I suspect more than half of women (and men) support a women’s right to control her own body, but as always, a loud-mouthed minority drowns out the consensus. 40%-50% of the eligible voters vote in most election opportunities, and of those, the 20% who are rabidly anti-choice seem to set policy.  ACORN, NPR, PBS, and Planned Parenthood all have felt the GOP Christian-Taliban wrath, with various degrees of success in fighting it.

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