My email inbox has been flooded over the last three days with messages of outrage over Susan G. Komen for the Cure's surprise metamorphosis into a purveyor of right-wing culture wars -- a change that the organization is now frantically trying to undo. Americans have been shaken by the news of a formerly respected and loved organization with a trusted brand turning on many of the low-income women who it had previously taken pride in serving.
I too am angry at Komen's decision to put right-wing ideology ahead of its purported public health mission. But our deeper anger should be directed at someone else: the Republicans in Congress and GOP leaders who consistently make the same choices involving many times more money, and many times more women's lives. The shock of the revelation of Komen's new policies only highlighted how numb many of us have become to the larger, unrelenting attacks on women's health by right-wing elected officials.
The grants to Planned Parenthood that Komen would have severed totaled $680,000 over the last year -- a total that the organization thankfully made up in two days from contributions that have poured in in response to the Komen betrayal. Let's put that in perspective. Last year, the House GOP voted to zero out the entire $317,000,000 Title X family planning budget -- including about $75 million that would have gone to Planned Parenthood's preventative care and treatment programs for low-income women. Deciding that this plan wasn't disastrous enough, the House also passed an amendment to eliminate all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, an estimated total of $363 million, much of which goes to care for the Medicaid patients who make up almost half of Planned Parenthood's clientele. The amount that Komen would have cut from Planned Parenthood's women's health care was significant -- but the amount that House Republicans were prepared to cut was 500 times larger.
The right wing understands this. Anti-choice groups have rejoiced over the Komen decision, seeing it as a stepping stone to what has always been their ultimate goal: eliminating women's reproductive rights and destroying Planned Parenthood along the way.
Those who value comprehensive women's health care need to make the same connection. What Komen did was wrong. What the Republican Party tries to do every chance it gets is hundreds of times worse.
I doubt that Mitt Romney will dare to take a stand on the Komen controversy. But it doesn't matter. We know where he is on this issue -- and not just because we know how he feels about poor people. Last year, Romney supported the amendment that would have eliminated 500 times as much money from Planned Parenthood's health care services, cutting off a million and half of its most needy patients. So did Newt Gingrich. So did every other major GOP presidential candidate. So did all but seven House Republicans.
The Komen decision was shocking to so many because, in part, we expect more integrity from a nonpartisan women's health organization than we do from our politicians.
But the stakes from our politicians are bigger. Planned Parenthood provides critical services to millions of American women each year. In 2010, it provided nearly 750,000 breast exams and 770,000 Pap tests to women seeking critical cancer screening. It provided more than four million tests and treatments for STIs. It provided affordable contraception to low-income women, preventing an estimated 584,000 unintended pregnancies. Planned Parenthood estimates that one in five American women has received care from the organization in her lifetime.
Without Komen's funding, Planned Parenthood would have rallied. Without federal funding, nearly half of its 3 million patients -- including many from disadvantaged neighborhoods and rural areas -- would lose their care.
Yes, we should be angry at Komen for the Cure. But, like the Right, we need to recognize that this is ultimately a symbolic fight in a much bigger battle.
Today, Komen gave in to the overwhelming response it received from Americans who value women's health over partisan politics. Our elected officials should face just as much pressure. Take the email you sent to Komen and copy Mitt Romney,Newt Gingrich, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. They need to hear the same message, and face the same backlash, five hundred times over.
Follow Michael B. Keegan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peoplefor