Komen's climb-down brings elation at regional Planned Parenthood

After a long few days, there's relief that breast-cancer screening support won't be cut off.

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Sen. Patty Murray

After a long few days, there's relief that breast-cancer screening support won't be cut off.

Planned Parenthood's Kristen Glundberg-Prossor of Seattle was elated.  “We’re just thankful that they realized that politics should not come before women’s health,” she told Crosscut, Friday morning (Feb. 3).

Glundberg-Prossor, the state voice of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest was basking in good news for the first time this week. The Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure, the world’s largest anti-breast cancer organization, has backed down from its astonishing decision of Tuesday, and now says it will not, after all, suspend breast cancer screening programs run by Planned Parenthood.

The sudden change is good news for hundreds of women in Washington who obtain breast cancer screening services through Planned Parenthood, including Latina and Native American women in the Planned Parenthood outreach programs, along with other rural populations who can’t afford private health services. Particularly vulnerable, Planned Parenthood says, was a group of some 400 in Boise, Idaho, refugees from Africa and Asia resettled by the International Rescue Committee, who lack English skills needed to find breast cancer screening support outside of Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Patty Murray, who helped rally concern about Komen's cutoff, said in Seattle on Friday that she welcomed the reversal. In a statement, she said, "This is a huge win for women in communities across the country who will now be able to get the breast cancer screenings they count on through Planned Parenthood. And this is a major victory for the men and women across America who made their voices heard over the last few days to express their shock and dismay at Komen’s initial decision.  Politics should never come between women and their health care, and I am very glad that Komen did the right thing and reversed their misguided and deeply damaging decision."  

Glundberg-Prossor said, ““Komen endured a firestorm of displeasure.” She suggested that the reaction had taken the charity by surprise. "They underestimated the effect on the American psyche when someone is being unfairly picked on," she said. "Here in Seattle we’ve had steady calls all day yesterday saying, 'We’re supporters of Komen and you and we’re so mad at them we’ll never donate to them again.' Most people understand that the Planned Parenthood network is essential to bringing breast cancer prevention to thousands of women who don’t have access in other way.”

Still, the suddenness of the Komen Foundation’s reversal was stunning. Earlier in the week the Foundation issued a statement saying the cutoff had resulted from a congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood. That would be the one-man investigation by anti-abortion GOP Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida.

On Thursday, the Founder and CEO of Komen's foundation, Nancy Brinker, said media characterization of the cutoff to Planned Parenthood as political  “just isn’t true; we’re not a political organization.” Rather, she said, it was because some Planned Parenthood programs “did not meet new grant criteria designed to measure and improve effectiveness.”

Then early Friday, the climb-down.  Komen will change its criteria so that they don’t require cutting off any organization that any politician at any level decides to investigate. The Foundation’s apology was clear and direct, without the evasive language CEO Brinker was using a day earlier.

“We want to apologize to the American public for the recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives,” the statement said.

It’s been widely reported that the decision cutting off Planned Parenthood came at the insistence of a new executive vice-president for policy, Karen Handel. She ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 and made a strong anti-Planned Parenthood pledge.  Despite the public relations nightmare that the policy change brought about, there’s no news about Handel’s future with Komen.

And despite the straightforward language of the Komen apology, there is wiggle room in its language addressing future policies. “We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood,” the statement says, “and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants.”  (Emphasis added.)

Translation: Okay, Planned Parenthood, you’ve won this argument by exposing Komen to excruciating embarrassment. And oh, yes. You can apply for grants in the future. Along with everyone else.

If anyone at the Komen Foundation was looking for a way to diminish the activities of Planned Parenthood,  it backfired.  Backers sent the organization $3 million in donations over three days. 

Murray left no doubt that she saw Komen's actions as political, saying in her statement, "Our fight for women’s health does not end here. There are still many who will continue to put partisan politics ahead of women’s health, and we need to make sure that the grassroots support and energy that successfully came together to right this wrong stands ready to be there for women the next time we’re needed."


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About the Authors & Contributors

Bob Simmons

Bob Simmons is a longtime KING-TV reporter who has been writing news for print and television for 65 years.