When my friend's ex-wife was battling cancer, he asked me to participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and I gladly did. It was an inspiring crisp fall morning along Allen Parkway where more than 30,000 gathered — many dressed in pink — to do their part in the fight against breast cancer. I was especially moved as survivors ran or walked a gauntlet of supporters giving them high-fives at the finish line.
But I won't take part again.
While the Susan G. Komen Foundation, by all accounts, does a lot of good work, they lost a lot of supporters today when the organization announced it would stop funding breast exam programs at Planned Parenthood. Komen officials cited a new self-imposed rule that prevents it from providing grants to organizations that are under investigation by state, local, or federal authorities.
In the last five years, Komen funded 170,000 breast exams at Planned Parenthood health centers and more than 6,400 mammogram referrals. Many were for women who don't have health insurance and don't have any other place to go.
Conservative Florida Congressman Cliff Sterns launched a probe last September to determine if Planned Parenthood had improperly used federal money for abortions. It remained unclear why Komen acted nearly five months after Sterns launched his probe and what facts of wrongdoing he has — if any.
Komen was founded by Dallas socialite Nancy Brinker, a prominent Republican who served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and U.S. Chief of Protocol in the admininstration of George W. Bush. Despite her political connections, she has nevertheless appeared largely apolitical in the fight against cancer until now.
Jezebel reports that the Komen foundation recently took a hard turn to the right when Karen Handel was named senior vice president for public policy last April. When Handel ran for governor of Georgia in 2010, she was endorsed by Sarah Palin in the losing cause. During the campaign, Handel wrote on her blog,
I will be a pro-life governor who will work tirelessly to promote a culture of life in Georgia…. I believe that each and every unborn child has inherent dignity, that every abortion is a tragedy, and that government has a role, along with the faith community, in encouraging women to choose life in even the most difficult of circumstances…. since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."
Jezebel notes that Handel promised to eliminate funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings provided by Planned Parenthood.
In the last five years, Komen funded 170,000 breast exams out of more than four million at Planned Parenthood health centers and more than 6,400 mammogram referrals out of 70,000. Many were for women who don't have health insurance, are in rural or underserved areas and don't have any other place to go. Experts say that early detection is essential for survival; without the additional screenings they fear that more women will die of cancer.
While Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which serves the Houston area, does not receive funding from Komen, president and CEO Peter J. Durkin says he is alarmed that Komen "appears to have succumbed to political pressure from a vocal minority.”
"Politics should never get in the way of a woman’s ability to access health care. We want to assure women who count on us for breast health, that we are still here for them,” Durkin said in a statement.
What those who demonize Planned Parenthood overlook is that only three percent of all services involve abortions — and the last time I looked abortion is still legal in the United States.
The other 97 percent receive such life-saving health care services as cancer screenings, birth control, testing for and treatment of STDs (4 million tests and treatments annually), breast health services, Pap tests (770,000 each year), and sexual health education and information. More than three million women and men visit Planned Parenthood health centers each year and one in five women in the United States has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life, according to the organization's figures.
That's the real silent majority. It's time for them —and us —to speak out — before it's too late.