Back to mobile

People Power Restores Komen Grants to Planned Parenthood

by Published on

This morning, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation announced it will not cut breast-screening funds for Planned Parenthood after all.

This is what democracy looks like.

Earlier this week, the Komen foundation encountered major backlash for its decision to stop funding breast health screenings at Planned Parenthood. The foundation claimed the defunding was a result of improved grant-making procedures that prohibited funding of any organization under investigation, which Planned Parenthood is. The investigation is by Congressman Cliff Stearns, R-Florida, into whether Planned Parenthood used state funds for abortion, which is forbidden by law. It bears noting that the Komen funds were also not funding abortions but were specifically for breast health screenings, Pap smears to detect cervical cancer, and similar procedures.

The reaction was immediate. Angry messages about Komen’s decision erupted on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the Komen website’s internal message board. A media rep for Planned Parenthood told the feminist blog Jezebel that the day after Komen’s announcement, Planned Parenthood received donations from more than 9,000 individual donors. In a normal 24- hour period, it gets 100 donors. On Thursday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $250,000 to help restore the lost funding. Two dozen Democratic U.S. senators prepared a letter asking the Komen foundation to reconsider. This morning, in the article “Outcry is Fierce to Cut in Funds By Cancer Group,” The New York Times labeled the public reaction as “showing the power of social media to harness protest.”

On Thursday, Komen chief executive Nancy Brinker held a press conference to reiterate that the decision wasn’t political, as did the statement the foundation released today. “We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood,” the statement read. “They were not.”

Except that Komen board member John D. Raffaelli told the Times on Wednesday that (I’m quoting the Times here) “Komen made the changes to its grant-making process specifically to end its relationship with Planned Parenthood.”

Komen’s statement from this morning begins, “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.” But they’re probably not sorry they tried to defund Planned Parenthood. They’re probably sorry they got caught.

For years, the Komen foundation has worked so successfully to brand its cause that you can hardly buy a bag of Sun Chips without contributing to breast cancer research. Supporting breast cancer research was the kind of non-partisan, feel-good cause everybody could get behind, and the Komen foundation was by far its biggest name. But now, Komen has done its reputation and fundraising profound damage. While some pro-lifers may have known of and been mad about Komen’s grants to Planned Parenthood, now that fact is widely known and neither side of the debate is likely happy—pro-choicers because Komen tried to defund and pro-lifers because it didn’t go through with it.

The grant money in question was $700,000, a fraction of the $93 million Komen distributes every year. With a brand damaged and hampered fund-raising, what other organizations will suffer because Komen played politics?

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.