Komen's Planned Parenthood Decision: It Sure Seems Like It's About Abortion

| Thu Feb. 2, 2012 5:30 PM EST
Nancy Brinker, CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, at a 2008 event.

Nancy Brinker, the CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, appeared on MSNBC on Thursday afternoon to deny that Komen's decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood had anything to do with politics.

"I'm troubled that it's been labeled as political," Brinker told host Andrea Mitchell. "This is not a political decision."

In the appearance, Brinker gave a revised set of reasons for why they are stopping the grants for breast cancer screenings. Komen initially claimed that it was ending the grant because a congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood launched by an anti-abortion lawmaker triggered a new internal rule against funding any program that is under investigation by federal, state, or local government. Now Brinker says the decision was less about the investigation and more about Komen's revised grant standards.

"Our issue is grant excellence. They do pass-through grants with their screening grants, they send people to other facilities," Brinker said. "We want to do more direct service grants." She made a similar claim in a call with reporters later on Wednesday, arguing that the grants have been terminated because Planned Parenthood doesn't generally provide mammograms directly. 

Brinker also denied that Karen Handel, Komen's top lobbyist and an anti-abortion Republican who was elected secretary of state in Georgia, had anything to do with the decision. She even denied that abortion had anything to do with the decision at all. But there are several reasons to believe that this may have more to do with abortion politics than the group wants to admit publicly:

  • Anti-abortion groups leading the campaign against Komen's Planned Parenthood funding may have been tipped off to the decision well before it was public.
  • The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg reported that the decision was about abortion and that Handel was involved. The story has not been corrected or retracted.
  • Komen did not cancel a grant to Pennsylvania State University despite the university being the target of a federal investigation, which was the original reason Komen cited for ending the Planned Parenthood grant.
  • Anti-abortion groups are also declaring victory in their parallel attempts to pressure Komen on embryonic stem cell research, another hot-button issue. Anti-abortion groups have targeted Komen for providing funding to any medical institution that also conducts that type of research (even if Komen isn't directly funding it). A few weeks ago, Texas Right to Life flagged a Komen press release from late November explicitly stating that they don't support research that involves "destroying a human embryo" and have never funded that type of research. Both Life News and the National Catholic Register noted the Komen release on Wednesday evening, and Life News reported further that Komen appears to have also ended grants to institutions that conducts embryonic stem cell research. The link to the press release on the Komen site is dead now, and the press release is no longer posted in their media section. The organization did not respond immediately to a request for comment on whether they've changed their policy on this topic as well.

Meanwhile, Brinker's criticism of Planned Parenthood for acting as a referrer to other service providers is a bit of a red herring. It is true that women who come to Planned Parenthood for an initial screening may have to go elsewhere for additional care. But that's true for any woman who needs additional attention from a specialist for a mammogram, biopsy, or lumpectomy. It's often a health care provider like Planned Parenthood that detects cause for concern in the first place, which is why the National Cancer Institute states that screenings conducted by a health care provider "on a regular basis are the most effective ways to detect breast cancer early." If you have health insurance and a primary care physician or gynecologist, that is generally the person who will refer you for additional care if they find reason for concern after an initial screening. But if a woman doesn't have insurance or a regular doctor, clinics like Planned Parenthood are her point of entry. Just walking into a radiography clinic and asking for a mammogram usually isn't possible, and if it were, it would be both extremely expensive and ill-advised.

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