By now everyone has heard about Susan G. Komen (SGK) pulling funding from Planned Parenthood (PP). My first reaction to the news was anger, since I assumed it had to have something to do with pressure from the anti-abortion movement. After all, PP provides absolutely necessary reproductive health services to millions of women. However, I decided to do some research into it to see whether my righteous indignation is well-founded. There’s tons of information on this issue, and I can’t claim to have conducted an exhaustive review, but I’ll attempt to present both sides of the issue. Full disclosure: I fully support PP, and at this point think that SGK is simply bowing to pressure from conservative groups (see Wesley’s post from December). However unlikely I think it is that my opinion will change, I remain open to that outcome. Also, regarding my opinions: this post contains them.
First, a brief summary of the facts.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure
- Founded by Nancy Brinker (Susan Komen’s sister) in 1982
- Has invested $1.9 billion in breast cancer research over its history
- Organizes Race for the Cure events throughout the world to raise money for cancer research
- Receives a 4-star rating from CharityNavigator.org
- Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY in 1916
- The organization formed around that clinic grew into the PP of today
- Operates 800 health centers throughout the U.S.
- Provides health care, education, and information to almost 5 million people worldwide per year.
- Provides over 1.4 million pap tests and breast exams every year
- Receives a 4-star rating from CharityNavigator.org
So now that we know that both organizations are well-established, trustworthy groups that help millions of people, let’s move on to the issue at hand. SGK announced that it was pulling its grant to Planned Parenthood, which amounts to roughly $700,000 per year and from what I can gather from several sources, partially funds breast cancer screenings. Why? As expected, each side has its own version of the story.
SGK’s side: In an announcement on their news page, Komen states that they have been conducting a review of their grant process over the past two years. This review has concluded in the implementation of “stronger performance criteria for [their] grantees to minimize duplication and free up dollars for direct services to help vulnerable women.” Because of these new criteria, PP no longer qualifies for their grant. I could not find any specific mention of what these criteria are on SGK’s site, but NPR has a Q&A page about the issue, and they report that “Komen says it was forced to make the move by a new policy that prevents it from giving grant money to groups that are under investigation.” The reason PP is under investigation is that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) started one in September of last year. More on that later.
PP’s side: In a statement on their “Newsroom” page, PP states that Komen’s grant withdrawal is in response to “anti-women’s health political organizations.” The article also notes that some women rely on PP as their only source of reproductive health, and suggests that this funding deficit could endanger some of these health services. All this is followed by a request for donations to help fill the gap.
Cliff Stearns: Just a quick aside to explain a little more about this Stearns investigation. In a news article from Ocala.com posted on Cliff Stearns’ official website, the congressman is quoted as saying “Although Planned Parenthood is barred from using federal funds to perform abortions, these funds are fungible and allow the group to use funds from other sources ostensibly for abortions.” He also alleges that the organization has violated state reporting laws regarding sexual assault and child abuse. Now, if there is evidence to support the violation of reporting laws, that is most definitely an issue that should be investigated. However, there’s a disconnect there. That part about using federal funds to cover non-abortion expenses so that they can use other donations to provide abortion services sounds like a perfectly valid use of funds. So what’s the real issue here for Rep. Stearns? Anyway, getting back to the point, SGK claims that this investigation is the reason PP is disqualified from receiving their grant.
The point of all this: Here’s how I see it. Lately SGK has been under gobs of pressure from conservative groups about their financial support of PP, which conservative groups seem to think of as big ol’ abortion farms (see this article from The Onion, a paragon of truth in media). When you boil it all down, $700,000 here or there is not going to make or break PP, and in fact they have already received nearly enough in donations to cover the lost funds (story from BusinessWeek). In my mind, the real concern brought up by this issue is that it is becoming clearer and clearer that conservative and evangelical Christian sentiments, at least politically, are at odds with women’s health and reproductive rights. That’s a bad direction. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll save it for another post. After the research I’ve done, I have concluded that while SGK isn’t even remotely the root cause of the problem, this decision tells anti-women’s rights groups that what they’re doing is working. Also, I think that in the long run it will hurt them more politically than it will hurt PP financially. With the growth in support for gay marriage against the wishes of conservative and evangelical groups, it’s just a matter of time before Americans stop letting politicians decide what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
UPDATE: Looks like SGK is apologizing and restoring their grant to PP. I guess the backlash was too much and they decided that it would be better to be seen as supporting women’s health no matter what, instead of when it suits some sponsors. Well, I say props to SGK. It’s probably going to be tough for them over the next few months, but I’m sure reversing this decision will pay off for them in the long run.