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komen vs. Planned Parenthood

Women beat back right-wing attack on health care

Published Feb 8, 2012 8:07 PM

Editor's note: News sources reported Feb. 7 that Komen's Karen Handel has resigned as the foundation's vice president for public policy.

Women scored a big victory in early February when they pushed back a right-wing attempt to defund a leading organization providing health care to low-income women. This gave women a huge boost after having been besieged by reactionary assaults on their rights, which have accelerated in recent years.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, a breast cancer advocacy group that has been aligned with ultra-right forces within and without the organization, had cancelled its $700,000 annual grant to Planned Parenthood. The money was to be used for breast cancer screening for low-income women.

When this information became public on Jan. 30, the dam burst. A tide of opposition swept the country over a reactionary political agenda that put women’s health at risk. This plus increasing political attacks on their rights and economic cuts to their health care drove women to loudly object.

Millions expressed their outrage on Facebook and Twitter and through email petition campaigns. The tools of social media enabled a swift, strong outcry.

Some top Komen Foundation officials quit, including Mollie Williams, who had overseen their multimillion-dollar grant program. Many of its affiliates mutinied, some threatening to quit and others saying they would raise funds for Planned Parenthood themselves. Some big donors balked. Many women who had raised funds for Komen felt betrayed and vowed never to do it again. Boycotts were proposed.

No doubt, women were also propelled into action out of disgust at the reactionary, white male, millionaire Republican presidential candidates outdoing each other with racist, sexist, anti-poor barbs. Their slams at Planned Parenthood have become a keynote of the primaries.

Moreover, many women across the country were emboldened to act quickly by the months-long Occupy Wall Street mobilizations against the super-rich 1% and the politicians who represent them. These activists have helped create a climate of resistance and fightback.

The massive, grassroots outcry pushed Komen to reverse its decision and agree to restore Planned Parenthood’s grant — although there is no promise about future grants.

Initially, Nancy Brinker, the founder and CEO of the Komen group, which had revenues of $410 million in 2010, gave as its excuse that Planned Parenthood was “under investigation” by Congress into its possible use of federal funds to cover abortions. This bogus, McCarthy-type witch-hunt by one representative and his allies was initiated after the Senate rejected the bill to defund reproductive health programs that do not even cover abortions.

Then Komen backed off. Claiming the decision was made because of Planned Parenthood’s cancer screening services, Brinker said the foundation would change its funding criteria to exclude only groups under “criminal” and not “political” investigation.

Why the right targets Planned Parenthood

However, the extreme right will never be satisfied. They are targeting Planned Parenthood not only because it performs abortions (only 3 percent of its services), but because it provides contraceptives and crucial health care services to low-income communities. The vast majority of its resources and staff are allocated for medical checkups, including pap tests, breast cancer, HIV and other screening, as well as birth control.

Planned Parenthood performs 750,000 breast exams annually, out of which Komen has funded 170,000 over five years. This treasured institution serves many neighborhoods where there is no other health care facility. It aids millions of women a year, especially those in uninsured and underserved African-American, Latina and Native communities — the very communities where breast cancer is often not detected early. Planned Parenthood provides essential, life-saving services.

Yet ultra-right, anti-woman forces are waging war against it. They are hell-bent on destroying this vital national organization. When they couldn’t get Congress to stop its funding, extremist state legislators began campaigns to bar federal Medicaid funds from reaching Planned Parenthood affiliates. So far, Washington continues to maintain that states cannot prevent allocated federal funds from reaching intended grantees.

Meanwhile, reactionary legislators keep whittling away at state-sponsored medical programs, cutting access to reproductive and other health services for low-income women. This is taking place as the capitalist class aggressively tries to undermine rightful social gains and services for the multinational working class.

Their scheme backfired this time. Not only did Planned Parenthood get overwhelming political support from millions of people across the U.S., but it raised $3 million within three days from thousands of grassroots donors. Its national president, Cecile Richards, has pledged that this money will go directly to expand breast cancer screening, education and diagnostic services.

Komen’s corporate ties

Brinker, a big Republican donor who helped get George W. Bush elected president, held top posts during his administration. She secretly conferred with Ari Fleischer, Bush’s former press secretary and a tough critic of Planned Parenthood, on how to deal with the organization.

Last spring, Karen Handel was appointed Komen’s senior vice president of public policy. Handel, a former unsuccessful Georgia gubernatorial candidate and ally of Sarah Palin, ran on an anti-choice program, swearing to defund Planned Parenthood and other critical health programs. She reportedly suggested the “investigation” rationale as a figleaf for the defunding. The National Organization for Women stresses Handel’s “vendetta against Planned Parenthood” and is demanding her firing.

In another sign of its right-wing leanings, the foundation just cut $12 million in stem cell research grants. These programs could lead to treatments or even a cure for breast cancer. The grants should be restored.

Throughout its history, the Komen Foundation has had strong corporate connections, even partnering with cancer-industry profiteers. Ten years ago, it lobbied against a pro-consumer Patient Bill of Rights. The Daily Kos on Feb. 1 reported that Komen opposed Medicaid funding for breast and cervical cancer services in 2000, and in 2009 it campaigned against the Health Care Reform Bill’s Public Option plan.

Jodi Jacobson, editor of RH Reality Check, explains in “The Cancerous Politics and Ideology of the Susan G. Komen Foundation” that there are “concerns about Komen’s influence on a recent Institute of Medicine report playing down environmental factors in breast cancer and its close affiliation with many companies that manufacture products using cancer-causing agents.” (Feb. 1)

No one concerned about this struggle thinks it is over. The same leadership is still at Komen’s helm and will decide future grants. Hard-right religious and political groups are pressuring other nongovernmental donors to cease contributing to Planned Parenthood.

Many women were propelled to speak out when it became evident that the extreme right would even sacrifice women’s lives to breast cancer to push their reactionary agenda. Activists who joined this massive outcry know that it will take constant vigilance and strong, immediate protests to keep the ultra-right from destroying progressive institutions and programs for working-class and poor women and their communities.

The fightback is on!