[Update: What follows was written before a breaking announcement that the Komen foundation has reversed field.]
I think it’s a safe bet that more people recognize pink ribbons as a sign of breast cancer prevention and research than would recognize the name Susan G. Komen — at least until recently. Komen died of breast cancer in 1980, and as she fought the good fight, her sister pledged to do all she could to fight the cruel disease. She did so by beginning the “Susan G. Komen for the Cure” foundation, raising money to promote both prevention and research.
Komen’s sister is Nancy G. Brinker, and the foundation has grown into quite a juggernaut as a groundswell of support from women, friends, and family of breast cancer victims joined the effort by displaying pink ribbons and participating in hundreds of local 5K runs called “Race for the Cure.” There were no politics involved, just a concern for women and the life-threatening reality of breast cancer. Last year, according to Brinker, the Komen foundation made about $93 million in grants for awareness, prevention, and research.
As anyone who follows the news knows by now, the Komen foundation recently came under fire because it became known that about $600,000 was granted to various Planned Parenthood chapters in 2009-2010, with the money designated for breast cancer prevention. If Komen’s total grants in that period were similar to the $93 million spread around in 2011, the grants to Planned Parenthood chapters were considerably less than one percent of the total.
In some areas, Planned Parenthood is among very few options for breast cancer screenings, especially for the poor. But, Planned Parenthood, as its name implies, also provides reproductive services to women, including birth control education and options, including abortion. So, anti-abortion activists, mainly from the religious right, threatened to withdraw support and clamored for Komen to cut any ties with Planned Parenthood lest they be tained, too.
The straw that appears to have broken the camel’s back — and a weighty straw it is — was a decision by the Southern Baptist Convention‘s publishing arm, LifeWay Christian Resources. LifeWay is a huge player in conservative Christian publishing, with marketing that extends beyond mail-order and LifeWay stores to the shelves of WalMart, where LifeWay had been selling a pink-covered “Breast Cancer Awareness Bible” that included information about the Komen foundation and forwarded a one dollar donation to the foundation for each Bible sold.
When LifeWay declared that it had made a mistake by supporting Komen and pulled the Bibles in mid-December, the SBC’s Baptist Press publicized the move, and it wasn’t long before the besiged foundation announced it would ax future grants to Planned Parenthood.
Founder and CEO Brinker, who served various posts in the Bush administration, adamantly denies that pressure from anti-abortionists or Planned Parenthood opponents had anything to do with the foundation’s decision, citing revised policies to improve efficiency that she said had been in the works for some time. She decries “scurrilous accusations” against the foundation, and insists that its motives have been mischaracterized.
The public isn’t buying it, though. Facebook and other social media sites have been inundated with posts from people who see the move as caving to political and religious pressure. Many women who have volunteered countless hours in behalf of the foundation are questioning whether they’ll continue to do so. Donations to Planned Parenthood skyrocketed, more than making up for the loss of future Komen grants. Twenty-six senators, all Democrats, signed a letter urging Brinker to reconsider.
The problem for the foundation is that many of the women who have felt empowered and brave and energized enough to devote their time and efforts to the cause also feel empowered and brave and energized enough to stand up for themselves and for the right to make decisions — even those very painful decisions — about whether they will bear children.
I’ve seen a smattering of quotes from women who said they had stopped participating in the “Race for the Cure” when they learned that the foundation supported Planned Parenthood. I have a feeling there will be a much larger exodus now, as women who feel betrayed by the decision seek other avenues to do their part in promoting breast cancer awareness and research.
If there’s a significant decrease in donations to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, as I suspect there will be, and many millions less are available for the fight against breast cancer, and whatever cure there might be is potentially pushed further into the future, will the activists who pressed for the change because of that tiny percentage granted through Planned Parenthood feel good about themselves?