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Jon Richards

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Komen Board's Wisdom Lost on Scott Walker

Posted: 02/ 8/2012 12:48 pm

When the leading fundraiser for breast cancer research attempts to quietly sever its successful partnership with the most prominent women's health care provider in the country, something's got to give.

And when an embattled Midwestern governor, facing a recall effort by 1 million citizens, puts access to women's health clinics and life-saving cancer screenings in jeopardy you would think something's got to give then, too.

Executives at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation accepted responsibility for their mistake and reversed their decision. In stark contrast, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been deaf to the same public outrage sparked by using women's health as a pawn in the far-right's long-standing feud with Planned Parenthood.

Breast cancer concerns everyone: mothers, grandmothers, daughters, partners, spouses, friends and relatives.

Preventive health care for women should rise above the ugly politics that has divided our country.

Who isn't for improving or protecting life-saving access to cancer screenings and other preventive care?

But we don't live in a perfect world. And sometimes politics trumps concerns we all seem to care about.

That became abundantly clear early last week when the news broke about the move by Komen executives to stop funding Planned Parenthood's breast screening efforts.

Citing their new rule to not fund organizations under government investigation, Komen execs decided in December to stop funding Planned Parenthood because it is the subject of a politically-motivated inquiry by a Florida congressman who alleges the health care provider is using federal funds to perform abortions (something it does not and legally cannot do).

The whole situation was unfortunate and unsettling.

Komen is the nation's leading fundraiser for breast cancer research, having invested almost $2 billion in treatment and research since its inception in 1982.

Planned Parenthood, likewise, has been a leading women's health care provider and advocate ever since Margaret Sanger founded the organization almost 100 years ago.

Both of these organizations have done tremendous work individually and together on behalf of women's health.

To see Komen execs jeopardize their organization's reputation and relationship with Planned Parenthood based solely on politics was disheartening.

Thanks in large part to the grassroots-fueled explosion on social media concerning Komen's decision, and the media coverage it commanded, Komen executives on Friday reversed course on their ill-advised plan to pull grant funding for Planned Parenthood.

While it should never have come to this, the reversal by Komen execs was the right thing to do.

No reversal is in the works for Gov. Walker's ideologically-driven battle against the Planned Parenthood clinics providing health care to the women of Wisconsin.

Last summer, Walker signed a state budget that eliminated family planning grants to Wisconsin's oldest and largest reproductive health provider with 27 clinics across our state. These grants can only be used for services such as cancer screenings, annual health exams, birth control and pregnancy care coordination.

The grants Walker cut supported nine women's health centers operated by Planned Parenthood that serve over 12,000 patients. And eight of those centers are in counties that have no other women's health clinic.

Then in December, Walker's health department notified Planned Parenthood by phone that its contract to coordinate cancer screenings for women in four counties in the Fox Valley near Green Bay would end in a matter of weeks -- even though no other organization had been found yet to step in to provide these services.

In fact, the Walker administration never notified the county health officials of the change beforehand so they had little time to put together an alternate plan.

Planned Parenthood had been providing cancer screening referrals to women in the four-county area since 1995, and according to one of the health directors there: "Planned Parenthood was doing an excellent job."

In 2010, they screened over 1,250 women in these four counties, including 500 breast cancer screenings and 244 cervical cancer screenings. Cancer was identified in 15 of those women.

Walker's decisions on women's health are a major break from the long-standing, bi-partisan consensus we've had in Wisconsin on the importance of preventive health care. Especially when we are trying to prevent cancer.

Komen had enough sense to walk back their position. The Walker administration continues to blindly march on.