Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the women’s health foundation under intense criticism for breaking ranks with Planned Parenthood, denied Thursday that political considerations played any role in its decision to cut off funding to the nation’s largest abortion provider.
We will never bow to political pressure,” Nancy G. Brinker, Komen founder and CEO, said in a 3 1/2-minute video statement posted on its website and on YouTube. The message said the reason was based on other factors, including that Planned Parenthood doesn’t generally provide mammograms.
Mrs. Brinker, who named the charity for her sister after she died of breast cancer, said the decision to cut off Planned Parenthood was made after she initiated a review of the organization’s grants and standards in 2010. Komen issued $93 million in community breast-health grants in 2011.
While current grants are not affected, she said, “regrettably, this strategic shift will affect any number of our long-term partners.”
“The scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful to so many of us who put our heart, soul and lives into this organization,” said Mrs. Brinker. “But more importantly, they are a dangerous distraction from the work that still remains to be done in ridding the world of breast cancer.”
Tens of thousands of angry posts hit social media sites after word of Komen’s decision spilled out late Tuesday. “Susan Komen would not give in to bullies or fear. Too bad the foundation bearing her name did,” said author Judy Blume via Twitter.
The denunciations spread Thursday to liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where 26 U.S. senators signed a letter calling on Komen to reverse itself.
“It would be tragic if any woman - let alone thousands of women - lost access to these potentially lifesaving screenings because of a politically motivated attack,” wrote the senators, all Democrats except Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Independently, Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said the Komen decision was “deeply troubling.”
“I call on the foundation to reverse their decision and not let politics interfere with protecting women’s health,” he said.
In a statement, Planned Parenthood accused Komen of succumbing to political pressure, saying anti-abortion groups “have repeatedly threatened” Komen for involvement with Planned Parenthood.
Meanwhile, pro-life groups raced to show support for Komen by flooding the foundation’s website with congratulatory emails and pledging to become active partners in its fundraising efforts. The Komen foundation, known for its Race for the Cure events and pink ribbons, has raised more than $1.9 billion since its inception in 1982 for breast cancer research.
The Family Research Council issued an alert Wednesday night asking its members to send a thank-you email to Komen. By noon Thursday, the site had funneled more than 15,000 emails to the organization, said FRC spokesman J.P. Duffy.
“Then we heard that some of the emails were bouncing back. I don’t know; I think we might have overwhelmed their server,” said Mr. Duffy. “Our people are very excited. I know a lot of them have wanted to get involved with Komen.”
A website called www.thankskomen.com asks people to commend Komen by adding their names to the site. Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, issued an action alert saying, “I ask you right now, no matter where you are in the world, to email the Susan G. Komen Foundation and thank them for defunding Planned Parenthood.”
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Mrs. Brinker said Komen’s own donations “are up 100 percent in the past two days” since the Associated Press first reported the cutoff.
Why the cutoff?
Pro-life groups have long been wary of Komen as a result of its connection with Planned Parenthood. Komen has contributed about $700,000 annually to Planned Parenthood for mammograms for low-income women.
But Planned Parenthood ran afoul of Komen’s newly implemented grant criteria because it provides only manual breast cancer screenings, which have been shown to be less effective than mammograms.
“Wherever possible, we want to grant to the provider that is actually providing the lifesaving mammogram,” Mrs. Brinker said in the video.
Planned Parenthood is also the subject of a congressional investigation, launched in September by Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican, into whether it uses taxpayer funds for abortion - another fact that would disqualify them from Komen’s grant criteria.
Jeanne Monahan, director of FRC’s Center for Human Dignity, said that lost in the uproar over the decision is Komen’s stated goal to be neutral on the abortion issue.
“Komen wants to be out of the culture wars. It’s not that they want to be pro-life; they’re abortion-neutral. And they’ve been very clear about that,” said Ms. Monahan.
Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life and herself a breast cancer survivor, said she had stopped running in the Race for the Cure after learning of the Planned Parenthood connection, but that now she would be “racing with them to support this courageous decision.”
“The work of the Komen Foundation has lifesaving potential and should not be intertwined with an industry dealing with death,” Mrs. Yoest said in a statement.
Her organization has been credited with spurring the congressional probe after releasing a report in 2011, “The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood responded to the Komen move by launching a fundraising drive to make up for the roughly $680,000 received in 2011 from the foundation.
By Wednesday, the group reported raising more than $400,000 from more than 6,000 donors, as well as a $250,000 grant from Texas oil executive Lee Fikes and his wife, Amy.
On Thursday, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pledged $250,000 to match future donations - meaning the cutoff has become a net monetary positive for Planned Parenthood.
Rebellion swirled Thursday among Komen affiliates in several states, including Arkansas, California, Connecticut and New York.
The seven Komen affiliates in California sent a joint letter to the state’s congressional delegation, calling the national policy “a misstep.”
Mollie Williams, Komen’s top public health official, already has stepped down over the organization’s Planned Parenthood decision, the Atlantic reported. Dr. Kathy Plesser, a radiologist who is a member of Komen’s New York City affiliate’s medical advisory board, said she would do the same if there was no reversal.
Also Thursday, the American Association of University Women announced that it would not sponsor a Komen Race for the Cure at its upcoming National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.
“AAUW is disappointed that some are playing politics with women’s health and jeopardizing care for the most vulnerable among us,” said Lisa Maatz, the association’s director of public policy.