Can you trust a breast cancer organization whose staff and board lie about medical science, including breast cancer?
Today, amidst the outcry surrounding the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to demand that its state affiliates terminate a successful five-year relationship working with Planned Parenthood clinics to increase access to breast cancer screening for low-income and uninsured women, it dawned on me that there is another pressing question here not being asked.
Why has the world’s largest breast cancer advocacy organization hired senior staff people and elected to its board individuals who misrepresent, or are allied with those who misrepresent, medical and public health evidence, including about causes of breast cancer?
It seems to me that the most fundamental measure of accountability for an organization dealing with life-threatening illnesses and public heath problems such as breast cancer is the efficacy with which that organization evaluates, communicates about, and respects medical and scientific evidence. Further from that, it would seem imperative that such an organization hire staff and elect board members who uphold the highest standards of science and medicine without regard to personal ideology.
Yet Komen has done just the opposite. They hired a known anti-choice politician, failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, as their Senior Vice President for Policy, a woman who misrepresented facts about government funding of Planned Parenthood as part of her core campaign strategy, and who also supports the spread of misinformation about public health and individual consequences of abortion care, outright lies that have been soundly refuted by medical and public health experts. The foundation of Handel’s career and poiltical candidacy is an ideology based on misrepresenting scientific, medical, and other facts. Isn’t that damaging to an organization that claims to be the world’s largest donor to scientific research on breast cancer? Why would an organization concernd about accuracy in research hire such a person?
They also elected Jane Abraham, the General Chairman of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) to their board. SBA itself is founded on misrepresentation of the history of Susan B. Anthony, and has constantly spread false and misleading information about federal government funding of abortion, about health reform, and about the the public health and medical evidence surrounding safe abortion care.
Moreover, Abraham is also closely affiliated with The Nurturing Network, a global network of crisis pregnancy centers started by Mary Cunningham Agee, a former corporate business executive and anti-choice crusader affiliated with the Coalition for Life. The Nurturing Network and other crisis pregnancy organizations exist to mislead women and dissuade them from making decisions that are best for themselves, and are based on sound scientific and medical advice. They are also profoundly patronizing in their approach, which is based on knowing better than women themselves what those women “should want” and what is “best for them.”
Groups like Nuturing Network are the nucleus of lies about abortion and breast cancer. For example, a December 2004 Congressional report based on an investigation led by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) found that, among other things, such centers:
“…provided false and misleading information about a link between abortion and breast cancer. There is a medical consensus that induced abortion does not cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Despite this consensus, eight centers told the caller that having an abortion would in fact increase her risk. One center said that “all abortion causes an increased risk of breast cancer in later years.” Another claimed that research shows a “far greater risk” of breast cancer after an abortion, telling the caller that an abortion would “affect the milk developing in her breasts” and that the risk of breast cancer increased by as much as 80% following an abortion.”
Never mind that the “abortion-breast cancer link” has been disproven many times over by groups like, uh, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the Institutes of Medicine. The lies live on because groups like SBA keep them going. For example, Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, is closely affiliated with and has appeared at events hosted by a group called the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer. Meanwhile, you don’t see too many folks working with the Komen Foundation who are out there pounding the pavement on, say, the possible links between environmental toxins and breast cancer, causal links between which make the corporate partners of Komen very, very nervous.
So it is fair to ask: Just what are the scientific and medical standards to which the Susan G. Komen Foundation adheres, if any? Why would a breast cancer organization hire staff and elect board members that misrepresent science and facts? Can you trust them to give you sound information about breast cancer? And can you trust them with investing your money in the best possible efforts to end breast cancer?