Earlier today, the Susan G. Komen Foundation issued a formal apology for their recent decision to discontinue more than $600,000 in annual funding for cancer screenings and prevention services at Planned Parenthood. After an unrelenting outcry from the general public and grassroots activists across the country, the Komen Foundation found itself facing a nearly unprecedented public relations nightmare.
In its press release, the Komen Foundation has promised that only “criminal” investigations will disqualify potential grantees, not political ones. The original criteria (written in late 2011, possibly for the exclusive purpose of ending Planned Parenthood funding) disqualified Planned Parenthood from receiving Komen Foundation funds since it is the target of a political “investigation” [read: “witchhunt”] led by Rep. Cliff Stearns. (What that means for Komen’s $7.5 million grant to Penn State remains to be seen, given the criminal and legal issues for which they are under investigation.)
The Komen Foundation’s statement says that it “will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.” And that’s where we hit the real problem. From the beginning, the Foundation has been clear that no current grants will be affected. As such, this is NOT a reversal of any kind.
Planned Parenthood will remain “eligible” for future grants, but the Komen Foundation has made no commitment to continue funding or to preserve its relationship with Planned Parenthood in years to come.
After all, when Komen Foundation founder and president Nancy Brinkler appeared on MSNBC earlier this week she said the decision to discontinue funding had nothing to do with the Congressional investigation. Instead, she argued that the Foundation was refocusing its efforts away from breast cancer prevention education and towards “metrics” and “direct service” grants. Over the past five years, Komen Foundation funding has enabled Planned Parenthood to provide more than 170,000 breast cancer screenings, and they have provided 6,400 mammogram referrals – that this doesn’t qualify as “direct service” would surely come as a surprise to the thousands of low-income and young women whose lives have been saved by these services.
So the question remains: Which of the Komen Foundation’s many reasons to sever ties to Planned Parenthood was really behind this decision? Was it a Congressional witchhunt? Or was it new grantmaking priorities?
Or, as we’ve known all along, is this really about abortion? Komen’s blatantly political decision this week followed years of pressure from anti-abortion activists, asking women – primarily low-income and uninsured women, women of color, and young women – to pay for the Komen Foundation’s cowardice with their lives. (In fact, this decision was made over the objections of the scientific staff at the Komen Foundation; their top public health official, Mollie Williams, immediately resigned in protest.)
In fact, the Komen Foundation has also announced that it will stop funding any and all breast cancer research related to stem cells, it is abundantly clear that the Foundation’s decision-making has become infused with politics, placing far-right ideology over science and saving women’s lives. Today’s apology and accompanying PR spin hasn’t changed that at all.
Whether the Komen Foundation’s statement dos in fact signal a reversal of its policy towards Planned Parenthood remains to be seen. It is entirely possible that they intend to fund Planned Parenthood cancer screening services in the future, and we hope they do. It is equally possible that this is simply a public relations move designed to diffuse a lucrative brand from spiraling out of control – and the Komen Foundation will quietly reject future grant proposals from Planned Parenthood once they are out of the media spotlight.
The true lesson this week is the power of grassroots activism – both online and offline – to force a major corporate entity to be accountable for its own actions. This is an enormous victory – for Planned Parenthood, for the movement as a whole, and most of all for advocates like you. This will not be the last time action and anger will be harnessed to protect the sexual and reproductive health of women and young people in America, but it is a striking reminder of how powerfully effective our collective voices can be.