WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Bill Knight - February 9

Feb 8, 2012

If people are in need - starving, say, or in a burning home - it’s crazy to check IDs of those trying to help. And if you want to assist the rescue, you aid the rescuers, whether they’re Klan members or Sierra Clubbers. If you want to hurt the rescuers, you attack them - especially in the pocketbook - and ignore the people who need help.

Until leaders at Susan G. Komen reversed course last Friday, they’d planned to ignore women benefiting from Planned Parenthood exams they help underwrite because they’d rather hurt Planned Parenthood.

Komen can do anything with its money, of course, but it shouldn’t pretend women wouldn’t have been harmed by its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood’s breast exams. The nation’s biggest cancer charity shouldn’t pretend that it doesn’t depend on regular people for 90% of “its” money (and they can donate elsewhere). And Komen shouldn’t pretend it wasn’t cooperating with a Right-wing agenda.

Rural women and women of color would’ve been more at risk because of Komen. Planned Parenthood issued a statement saying, “At immediate risk are low-income women, many located in rural and underserved communities, served by 19 Planned Parenthood programs funded by Komen.”

It’s a national issue with roots in west-central Illinois. Susan Goodman Komen, born in Peoria, also is buried in Parkview Cemetery there. She was 33 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and 36 when she passed on. Her sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker, thought Susan's situation might have turned out differently if people knew more about breast cancer, and she pledged to her ailing sister that she’d address that. Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 1982.

Since then, Komen’s expenditures have included funds to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and mammogram referrals. That relationship sparked criticism from anti-choice forces because some Planned Parenthood health centers also provide counseling that includes information about abortion, and some perform abortions.

Nationwide, Planned Parenthood provided 747,000 breast exams and related screenings in 2010, according to its most recent annual affiliate report, most of them rural, low-income, African-American or Latina women, who suffer higher rates than the rest of the country, which the National Cancer Institute ties to lack of access to effective screening and early treatment.

Last year, Komen praised the work it and Planned Parenthood did together, saying, “While Komen affiliates provide funds to pay for screening, education and treatment programs in dozens of communities, in some areas, the only place that poor, uninsured or under-insured women can receive these services are through programs run by Planned Parenthood. These facilities serve rural women, poor women, Native American women, women of color, and the un- and under-insured. Planned Parenthood uses these funds only for breast health education, screening and treatment programs. As long as there is a need for health care for these women, Komen affiliates will continue to fund the facilities that meet that need.”

Or until it’s pressured, apparently.

The decision was political, say observers like Jodi Jacobson, a longtime healthcare advocate and editor of “Reproductive Health Reality Check” She wrote, “It is now clear that some anti-choicers on Komen's board and senior staff are actually willing to sacrifice poor women to breast cancer to satisfy their own agendas.”

Anti-choice lawmakers have targeted Planned Parenthood for years, increased attacks, and launched a quasi-official inquiry headed by U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), whose procedural probe provides cover for Komen to justify its action. Komen initially rationalized its move by saying, “Under these new [Komen policy] criteria, Planned Parenthood will be ineligible to receive new funding from Komen until these investigations are complete and these issues are resolved.”

Brinker during the George W. Bush administration was U.S. Ambassador to Hungary (2001-03) and Chief of Protocol of the United States (2007-08). Komen last year hired as vice president for public policy Karen Handel, an anti-choice candidate for governor of Georgia who campaigned on de-funding Planned Parenthood. (She lost.) Also on Komen's Advocacy Alliance Board is Jane Abraham, chair of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List and its Political Action Committee.

That didn’t matter if they helped women; it explains their attempt - and why even their turnabout after the public outcry doesn’t promise future funding.

Bill Knight is a freelance writer who teaches at Western Illinois University. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of WIU or Tri States Public Radio.