Komen Foundation Exposed as Right-Wing Organization

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We’ve all seen the pink ribbons. These ribbons reflect the wearer’s awareness of breast cancer, and that he or she stands in solidarity with those who have suffered, either directly or indirectly, from this disease.

The vast majority of these ribbons are actually the product of a single group, the Susan G. Komen Foundation (SGK), an organization that says it is working to eradicate breast cancer. Sounds good. What’s not to like?

Well, this week, SGK pulled over $600,000 in funding from Planned Parenthood. The reason? Planned Parenthood is under investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee for alleged misuse of federal funds (anti-choicers claim that Planned Parenthood uses federal funds to pay for abortions, which is illegal under our backward system). The investigation is total bullshit, and it was apparently instigated by Americans United for Life, a right-wing group that has had Planned Parenthood in its sights for quite some time. Ezra Klein explains:

After the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood, attention has focused on its Vice President for Policy, Karen Handel. She joined the group last January after a failed run for governor in Georgia, where she had advocated defunding Planned Parenthood.

But there’s another woman who deserves equal credit: Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest. It’s her group that issued a report last fall, “The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood,” that led to a probe by the Energy and Commerce Committee. And it’s that investigation that puts Planned Parenthood in violation of Komen’s new policy that bars funding of groups under investigation.

Yoest has run Americans United for Life for three years. She came to the group from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, and before that, served as the Family Research Council’s vice president for communications. She moved to Washington in the 1980s to work in the Reagan administration. But she counts this as perhaps her biggest victory.

Yep. A “big victory” for the so-called pro-life movement.

It’s also worth noting that House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton has had his own problems with the anti-choice nuts. In fact, Americans United for Life even went so far as to oppose his chairmanship:

The anti-abortion group Americans United for Life is lobbying against Rep. Fred Upton’s (R-Mich.) bid for the Energy and Commerce chairmanship, blasting Republican lawmakers with a letter Tuesday saying that he is against anti-abortion values.

The letter, authored by Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life Action, says that Upton has “voted against such common-sense policies as parents being notified if their minor child seeks an abortion at a federally funded facility, voted in favor of obstructing the partial-birth abortion ban and voted to allow the federal funding of embryo-destructive research.”

“For Representative Upton to claim that he is pro-life after amassing a record that is starkly contrary creates a serious credibility gap,” the letter reads.

Looks like Upton needed to shore-up his wingnut credentials, thus the investigation into Planned Parenthood.

And now Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic appears to have confirmation that there has been a right-wing putsch taking place at Komen over the past few months, and that the excuse not to fund Planned Parenthood (i.e. the House investigation) is complete bullshit:

An entirely avoidable, and deeply regrettable, controversy has been raging this week over the decision by the (formerly highly esteemed) Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation, the world’s leading breast-cancer research advocacy group, to cut its support for Planned Parenthood, which used Komen dollars (about $600,000 annually) to pay for breast-screening exams for poor people. (The Atlantic’s Nicholas Jackson has an excellent summary of the controversy so far.)

Komen, the marketing juggernaut that brought the world the ubiquitous pink ribbon campaign, says it cut-off Planned Parenthood because of a newly adopted foundation rule prohibiting it from funding any group that is under formal investigation by a government body. (Planned Parenthood is being investigated by Rep. Cliff Stearns, an anti-abortion Florida Republican, who says he is trying to learn if the group spent public money to provide abortions.)

But three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut-off Planned Parenthood. (Komen gives out grants to roughly 2,000 organizations, and the new “no-investigations” rule applies to only one so far.) The decision to create a rule that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to these sources, was driven by the organization’s new senior vice-president for public policy, Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who is staunchly anti-abortion and who has said that since she is “pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.” (The Komen grants to Planned Parenthood did not pay for abortion or contraception services, only cancer detection, according to all parties involved.) I’ve tried to reach Handel for comment, and will update this post if I speak with her.

The decision, made in December, caused an uproar inside Komen. Three sources told me that the organization’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood. Williams, who served as the managing director of community health programs, was responsible for directing the distribution of $93 million in annual grants. Williams declined to comment when I reached her yesterday on whether she had resigned her position in protest, and she declined to speak about any other aspects of the controversy.

But John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen’s senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public relations aspects of Komen’s Planned Parenthood grant, said that Williams believed she could not honorably serve in her position once Komen had caved to pressure from the anti-abortion right. “Mollie is one of the most highly respected and ethical people inside the organization, and she felt she couldn’t continue under these conditions,” Hammarley said. “The Komen board of directors are very politically savvy folks, and I think over time they thought if they gave in to the very aggressive propaganda machine of the anti-abortion groups, that the issue would go away. It seemed very short-sighted to me.”

But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, does it not? As it turns out, Planned Parenthood appears to have little to worry about when it comes to the money that was lost:

Supporters of Planned Parenthood have flooded the organization with enough donations to recoup almost all of the money that would have come from the Susan G. Komen foundation.

Planned Parenthood said it has raised $400,000 in online donations in the 24 hours since news broke that Komen would no longer fund cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. More than 6,000 people have donated, Planned Parenthood said.

The group announced yesterday a $250,000 donation to continue providing cancer screenings to low-income women.

“People respond powerfully when they see politics interfering with women’s health,” Planned Parenthood said. “That’s why we’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of support. These donations will continue to help expand Planned Parenthood’s critical health care services nationwide, especially those affiliates impacted by the Komen cuts.”

Critics of Komen’s decision say the charity caved to political pressure from the right, which has pushed aggressively to cut off public funding to Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions in addition to other women’s healthcare services.

So, next time you see one of those pink ribbons, ask yourself whether it truly represents solidarity with women who have suffered from breast cancer, or whether it’s just a cheap tchotchke designed to tug on your heartstrings, while your money goes to pay for the lavish salaries of Komen’s staffers (tax records show that about two-dozen Komen executives and staffers earn salaries in the low-to-mid six-figures) and to fund a right-wing stealth agenda that punishes poor women.

As for me, my mother died of breast cancer in 1993. She was just 55 years old. I’ll be giving my money to ANYONE other than the Komen Foundation.