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Politicizing Breast Cancer: Komen Foundation's "Race For Controversy"

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I have long been a supporter of the Susan B. Komen Foundation for their great work on combating breast cancer. In the past, like so many millions of Americans, I too donated to the "Race for a Cure." The mission is so important, but to allow their non-profit organization to become politicized and hijacked by those who appear to care little about women's total health (including their reproductive freedom) is a sorry outrage.

The issue is that, until now, the Komen Foundation, the most well-funded breast-cancer charity, was helping subsidize cancer screenings and education in Planned Parenthood clinics. Sadly, politics has infected the Komen Foundation's commitment to women's health. In a bald-faced political move, Komen's conservative leadership has withdrawn funding for breast screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. This will exacerbate the already difficult problem of providing coordinated health care to women in need. As a consequence, many (mostly desperately poor) women who would have been screened properly for breast cancer may no longer have the resources available at clinics they've historically gone to.

Planned Parenthood has done an amazing job caring for women. Meanwhile, so many conservative leaders (mostly rich white males, ever notice?) figure out new ways to deny women health care and coverage so demonstrably needed. The question the Komen Foundation leadership should have been asking is how to provide the highest level of integrated care to women in need.

Instead, an organized smear on Planned Parenthood is now being "investigated," instigated by a "pro-life" conservative Congressman. This highly-politicized investigation was used by the Komen Foundation as justification to end the breast screening programs at Planned Parenthood. Although the breast cancer screenings have nothing to do with abortion, foes of abortion have tried every means possible to attack Planned Parenthood. "Right-to-Lifers" are frustrated because they haven't changed the views of most Americans who increasingly support a woman's "Right to Choose" and because they have yet to have abortion banned by the courts.

This move by the Komen Foundation isn't about caring for women's health needs: it's just part of the same old divisive and polarizing politics of abortion in a major election year... a ploy conservatives trot out every four years to energize their base. So while women will now get less care... uncoordinated care (at best)... conservatives get to score some points and raise the temperature of an argument that has nothing to do with abortion: just the mean old political calculus with women's health being the casualty on this battlefield.

So, how about some facts (quoting from a terrific piece by Lori Stahl in today's Washington Post):

The Dallas-based organization, which is the country's biggest breast cancer charity, insisted its controversial decision to defund Planned Parenthood affiliates was made only in light of Komen's new policy against supporting agencies that are under investigation. (The congressional investigation itself was launched by a conservative Republican and spurred by antiabortion groups.)

The decision was "not about politics," a Komen statement insisted.

But the truth is that Komen founder Nancy Brinker has strong Republican ties and Cecile Richards, who leads Planned Parenthood, is daughter of late Texas Gov. Ann Richards and has longtime Democratic Party ties. Also worth noting: This is an election year.Brinker, a longtime GOP donor who was ambassador to Hungary under then-President George W. Bush, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2009. She has cast Komen as above politics, saying its focus is women's health.

But the decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood comes shortly after Komen unveiled a new partnership that strengthens its ties to the George W. Bush Institute. The institute is the policy-making arm of Bush's presidential library, which is scheduled to open in Dallas next year."

Over the past five years, Komen funding has provided nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams out of more than 4 million nationwide at Planned Parenthood health centers. Komen has also provided more than 6,400 out of 70,000 mammogram referrals. Those non-abortion-related services are often the collateral damage when Planned Parenthood takes a hit.

When Susan Komen discovered she had breast cancer, she said, "as soon as I get better, let's do something about this... I want to fix up this waiting room and make it pretty for the women who have to be here. This isn't right." Susan Komen made it clear she cared about how women would be treated in clinics... and I suspect that if she hadn't died from this horrible disease, she would have fought to continue efforts to provide breast cancer screenings (at Planned Parenthood and in other medical facilities) in a way women would be treated with respect.

So, while the Komen Foundation withdraws funding that helped 170,000 women get breast exams, don't kid yourselves: This isn't about caring for women's health... or providing better care... or about following the stated mission of the Komen Foundation; it is about politics... conservative politics, to be clear.... and dirty politics putting women's lives at risk. The Komen Foundation puts women's health at risk by de-funding these critical programs. Instead of "Racing For a Cure" and helping women in need get adequate health care, women are being treated as political pawns in the business-as-usual election mud fight. Shame!