Why I’m not impressed with Komen (Despite changing their stance on PP)

Last night I was going to post about Komen and Planned Parenthood but today’s news changes that thought train but I still think it is worth commenting on.

For background see Rachel Maddow’s summary from last night.

Attacking Planned Parenthood is not new, so why is it so hugely different when The Susan G. Komen for the Cure removes support from Planned Parenthood than when Congress and State Legislators do?

I think it largely has to do with where expectations lie. With Congress – no matter when you look in the last few years and regardless of what side of almost any issue you have an opinion on – most Americans agree Congress is something we don’t approve of. Since 2009 the highest Congressional approval numbers were at 37%. So when congress does something I don’t approve of, like cutting support to Planned Parenthood, I can’t really do much to change that. My representatives in the House and Senate generally won’t be swayed by any one feedback mechanism and this is true of most representatives on hot button issues. I expect Republicans in congress to be anti-women’s health because they come in campaigning on it. They are “pro-life” until a child is born at which point they’re anti-healthcare, anti-women’s rights and autonomy of health decisions, anti-LGBT families, etc… I expect it from them to attack women’s rights. And on the left I expect Democrats to make non-binding resolutions and give lip service to those issues but that they will ultimately cave when push comes to shove. (See Obama’s record on parental notification or NDAA etc… if you want to know why my expectations are calibrated as such) Ultimately when it comes to the government while I think there is huge potential for good (I like clean air, roads without potholes, clean drinking water, schools, fire fighters etc…) the political process will not represent the best of that. So while individually Democrats and Republicans might support women in their lives, that support being embodied in programs extending to all is another issue.

Meanwhile over at The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation – my expectations are a bit different. While there have been many critiques of running the non-profit too much like a business and making partners with ill fitted groups, reducing information and packing itself in a corporate manner that doesn’t suit the cause (See Komen Watch) – fundamentally people believe in the brand. People believe that if they are aware of cancer risks, wear their pink ribbon to bring a dialog about cancer and talk about the need for early screenings – ultimately there will be less breast cancer. When people participate in the Race for the Cure events, while they know the events won’t be the cure, there is a general feeling that the money they raise, and the awareness they raise will help. So when Komen pulls support from a group who’s About Us page says, “Planned Parenthood has promoted a commonsense approach to women’s health and well-being, based on respect for each individual’s right to make informed, independent decisions about health, sex, and family planning.” – it shocks.

Komen describes themselves saying, “As the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, we’re working together to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.” – so when they put politics ahead of that mission and pull back support from Planned Parenthood who’s mission so clearly overlaps there is a natural and justified anger.

Today when Komen reversed that decision they said,

“We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.  The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen.  We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood.  They were not.

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation.  We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.”

To which I’d like to call out – B*LL$HIT. As already pointed out by Mother Jones, Komen has not withdrawn support from Penn State which is under criminal investigations that are not political… Furthermore the timing of their withdrawn support does not correlate with the investigations, but it does follow the hiring of prominent Republican Karen Handel, a former GOP candidate who ran on a pro-life platform, (though not pro-life enough for Georgia where she took flak for being okay with abortion in cases of rape and incest). While she may not be responsible – an anonymous source claims she is and speculation began before the reversal of this choice. However she was stupid enough to tweet this (and promptly delete it when the internet exploded…) :

“Just like a pro-abortion group to turn a cancer orgs decision into a political bomb to throw. Cry me a freaking river.”

Regardless if she is directly responsible, she should be fired for that. She is Susan G. Komen’s Vice President of Public Policy, and to publicly put forward an insult like that to supporters of Planned Parenthood is not appropriate. “Cry me a freaking river?” That’s the VICE PRESIDENT OF PUBLIC POLICY’S reaction to low income women losing access to life saving preventative care and screenings? Ignoring the politics of I disagree with her perspective – from a pure business standpoint as  someone who should be a good public face of the organization – she had failed. And while Komen’s statement said, “We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics.”  – the reality is it does.

And for a lot of advocates of women’s health Komen’s brand has lost a huge amount of trust, been mocked by Komen’s VP of Public Policy for reacting to that, and no reversal of policy will change that. Because a reversal of one politically motivated decision due to political outcry is in itself a political reaction. Once Komen pulled support it put itself in a position where by not giving support it was playing to one political agenda, and by renewing support in the wake of activists, senators and supports reactions – it played to the damage control of another political stance. Trustworthy non-profits operating to provide care do not do such abrupt about-faces- and the damage to the brand will not be repaired overnight.

As the Economist  posted:

“It’s a cynical thing to say, but I suspect this might cost Susan G. Komen more than it does Planned Parenthood.”

I agree.
If they were going to cut funding they should have also done so to Penn State. By not doing so they suggested that abortion is a worse crime than child rape. By cutting funding and doing a rapid about face they showed they’re operating in a political arena, and brought attention to their public policy, which is headed by someone who’s stance on the issue raises uncomfortable questions. And by allowing the news cycle to continue a full week – Planned Parenthood suddenly gained huge numbers of supporters, and people began to delve into what those pink ribbons actually mean. Which given the way they run their non-profit like a corporation is not a good thing to raise attention to. Things like the CEO making $481,704 in an annual salary… (I don’t believe non-profit workers should be paid so little they can’t lead a good life – but if one person’s salary is 70% the amount of grants you make to the largest provider of women’s health care in the country… HOW ARE YOU ALLOCATING YOUR RESOURCES? Seriously – that’s ridiculous.)

My mother is a breast cancer survivor. When I discussed this issue with her she said if it wasn’t reversed she wouldn’t participate in Race for the Cure. This is from someone who did 8 of the 3 day walks to raise funs for breast cancer research. Who has the keychain, a stuffed animal and lord knows how many pink products…  She is as much of Komen’s target market as you can get and an active part of their fundraising events- and this week she was disappointed and had lost interest in working with them.

I am glad to see they reversed their decision. But until they fire Karen Handle, reduce executive compensation in favor of allocating a greater chunk of their funds to actual preventative care and treatment – I’m done with the pink ribbon industry. For more reasons why you might want to do so too, further reading.

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