I'm back, having had a wonderful vacation of seven days in the Caribbean and having the special experience of going through the Panama Canal. I transversed it by entering the canal from the Pacific side. Some call the creation of the canal the ninth wonder of the world. The original canal, still in use, is being supplemented by a wider canal now being built which will handle much larger ships not capable of going through the existing canal. It takes nine hours to pass through the canal and its locks, saving 14,000 miles were the ship to go around the tip of South America.
Now back to work. While on the ship, I received a full-sized version of the "A" section of the Times, keeping up with the news. The item that clearly dominated this past week while I was on the ship was the decision, as the Times reported on February 1st, of "the world's largest breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is cutting off its financing of breast cancer screening and education programs run by Planned Parenthood affiliates."
The Komen foundation gives 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates a total of nearly $700,000 annually, as they have since 2005. Planned Parenthood alleges that the Komen Foundation was responding to the pressures brought by anti-abortion groups when it announced it will no longer fund Planned Parenthood. The Times of February 2nd reported, "only a small percentage of Planned Parenthood's expenditures go toward abortion services." A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, Dawn Laguens, "said that Komen's money had over the years underwritten breast cancer screenings for 170,000 women, some of whose lives were saved as a result."
The response to Komen's action cutting off funds was instantaneous. The foundation was blasted for its action and some of its own members demanded a reversal of its decision. The Komen decision to cut off funds was defended by its spokeswoman, Leslie Aun, who told the Associated Press, "the main factor in the decision was a new rule adopted by Komen that prohibits grants to organizations being investigated by local, state or federal authorities."
She went on, "...Planned Parenthood was therefore disqualified from financing because of an inquiry being conducted by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, who is looking at how Planned Parenthood spends and reports its money." The Times of February 2nd stated, "But for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, being the target of partisan investigations is part of doing business." The Times of February 1st reported the comments of Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood to the cut off of funds and the reasons given by Komen. "Cecile Richards... said that the decision 'came so abruptly in the face of a long, good working relationship with Komen' and that the change in financing criteria 'was written specifically to address the political pressure that they've been under.'" Ms. Richards also said that "all of Planned Parenthood's affiliates provided around 770,000 women with breast examinations and paid for mammograms and ultrasounds for those who needed and could not afford further diagnostic services. She said she received the news from the Komen foundation in late December and had requested a meeting with officials there to discuss the matter but was rebuffed." Richards went on, "'Until really recently, the Komen foundation had been praising our breast health programs as essential... this really abrupt about-face was very surprising. I think that the Komen foundation has been bullied by right-wing groups.'"
The response by the public was immediate and enormous. Undoubtedly, the pledges that were forthcoming have more than made up for Komen's annual grants of $700,000. I decided I would send my own contribution of $1,000 -- I had never contributed to Planned Parenthood before, having my own list of charities which I support, and write my commentary on the subject urging others who wish to respond to this latest attack on the right of women to decide for themselves, in consultation with their doctors, subject to the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1973 allowing abortions under conditions laid out in that decision. I do believe that one of the major issues in the 2012 presidential campaign will be the issue of abortion, with the Democrats defending the rights protected under Roe v. Wade, and the Republicans doing what they can to reduce the scope of and, if possible, rescind the decision.
The abortion opponents are seeking to have states enact legislation declaring a fetus to be a human being from the moment of conception, giving it rights (through court-appointed guardians to contest the abortion). Rights provided by Roe v. Wade are worthless if poverty prevents the woman from paying for an abortion when the government refuses to pay for abortions. That was certainly true after the Hyde amendment in the U.S. Congress was enacted barring the use of federal funds by Medicaid, except for rape, incest and the life of the mother. As a result of the passage of that amendment, I directed as mayor that New York City residents seeking an elective abortion, not eligible for Medicaid or state reimbursement, receive city funding.
In 1978, I had the following correspondence with the Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, Blanche Bernstein:
January 20, 1978
Dear Mayor Koch: I am writing you to clarify the City's policy regarding elective abortions. HRA must issue instructions as to the conditions under which we pay for abortions. This is an immediate issue because the State has taken over portions of Medicaid payments and requires a statement from us as to what abortions are covered by City funds. Medical providers must also be informed as to our policy. As I understand your public statement, no woman in New York City who wants to have an abortion will be denied the opportunity to have an abortion due to an inability to pay. This means that certain abortions will be paid for with Federal, State and City funds. Others will be paid for with State and City participation and a third category, strictly elective abortions, will be paid for entirely out of City funds. Your policy as I understand it, allows HRA to pay for elective abortions for which neither the State nor the Federal Government will participate. It is my belief that this is a wise and humane policy not only from the point of view of the individual but of the City and its people. I would appreciate your confirmation of my interpretation of your public statement before HRA issues payment orders to the State. Sincerely yours, Blanche Bernstein
January 23, 1978
Dear Blanche: I have your letter of January 20. You correctly stated my policy in that letter, and you are authorized to issue the appropriate payment orders to the State. All the best.
The state of New York paid for and still pays half of the cost of abortions that are deemed medically necessary and not funded by the federal government, with the city paying the other half. In 1988, each -- the state and city -- expended approximately $6 million for state Medicaid abortions not funded by the federal government. In addition, the city spent approximately $5 million without any reimbursement by the state for 19,900 elective abortions in calendar year 1988. And above these figures, Health and Hospitals Corporation spent approximately $2 million for an additional 2,800 abortions for the medically indigent who are not covered by Medicaid. Therefore, the city funded without reimbursement from the state or federal governments, 22,700 abortions at a cost of $6.9 million.
The same state and city sharing of costs exists today. Also, good news -- the Komen foundation has restored its funding of Planned Parenthood.