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Komen For The Cure: Breasts, With a Side of Politics

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The Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure backlash may have been the "Tahrir Square moment" for American women, as former Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt suggested on The Daily Beast.

But for those of us inside the reproductive justice movement, the political bullying is nothing new. Extremists who are threatened by the prospect of women having control over their own bodies have for years pressured government and private institutions to conform to their narrow views.

Just this past year, anti-choice activists nearly shut down the federal government in a dispute over family planning funding for Planned Parenthood. You see, opponents are obsessed with denying women their human rights, even at the detriment of our nation's sustainability.

Thirty-nine years after the Supreme Court affirmed women's reproductive rights, female body parts are still routinely singled out for political game. No one questions the necessity of a prostate exam. But need a Pap smear? Sorry, cervixes are too controversial. That's the paradigm in which advocates for women's health have operated for so long.

What may explain such pervasive outrage that women -- beyond those of us in the reproductive justice field -- feel toward Komen is that breasts have long been exempted from the political attacks. Support for breast health is so mainstream that even provocative messaging -- like the Keep a Breast Foundation's "I love boobies" campaign -- have drawn only mild reactions.

Komen's decision to defund Planned Parenthood -- to effectively prevent their low-income patients from getting lifesaving breast cancer services -- struck a nerve with women on all ends of the political spectrum because of its secretive and calculated political nature.

The timing of events, from the hiring of an executive-level employee with a conservative political background, to Komen's decision to end $12 million in embryonic stem cell research grants, to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, indicate an ideological agenda not previously apparent at Komen.

The breast just may have been the straw that broke the woman's back -- the last inviolable body part that distinguishes women from men fallen victim to abortion politics. At its core, this is an issue of trust -- trust that women had placed in Komen to put the mission of preventing and curing cancer above all else.

It should surprise no one that women mobilized against Komen, an organization that empowered women to fight for their health. BBC News Magazine reporter Kate Dailey captured it best: "... Komen built their reputation by refusing to kow-tow to authority if care was at stake, and by showing the world that when individual women work together, they have the power to fight for change."

The damage to Komen's reputation is undeniable. And it should serve as a cautionary tale to anti-choice extremists this election year. Women will no longer allow their health to be put at risk over partisan ideology. The swift response of millions of women -- and those who trust women to make decisions about their bodies and their boobies - demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to keeping health care and politics separate.

Komen's misstep may, in fact, have been the impetus for change that reproductive justice advocates have been waiting for all along.