WHEN THE Susan G. Komen foundation, the well-known breast cancer advocacy group, announced this week that it would stop funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, the news quickly reverberated through abortion-rights and anti-abortion circles. The political motivations seemed clear: Komen has been under increasing pressure from anti-abortion groups to sever its relationship with Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions. The foundation’s head of public policy ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 on an antiabortion platform.
In fact, the Komen Foundation offers a different explanation - one that seems designed to blunt criticism from women’s groups but doesn’t ring true. There’s nothing wrong with a prominent charity that advocates for women’s health taking a stand on an important issue like abortion. But it shouldn’t hide what it’s doing; it should give its many supporters a full explanation on the merits.
In official statements, Komen notes that its board recently approved a new policy for its grants, saying state affiliates cannot provide money to organizations that are under local, state, or federal investigation for impropriety or fraud. Planned Parenthood, it turns out, is the subject of a congressional investigation, launched last fall by Representative Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican who has accused the group of, among other things, improperly channeling public funds to abortions. Many have criticized the investigation itself for being politically motivated; so far, it has turned up no damning evidence. But it has provided a convenient fig leaf for Komen’s latest move.
Komen’s decision has, predictably and understandably, riled up some of its own donors. They claim that withholding funds from Planned Parenthood runs counter to Komen’s mission of promoting breast-cancer screening and risks hurting poor and underserved women.
As it turns out, Komen’s move probably won’t have a huge effect on breast cancer screening; Planned Parenthood has reported a flood of donations to make up for the lost funding. The aftershocks, instead, will be largely political. Abortion-rights advocates are furious. Anti-abortion advocates are thrilled. That was surely part of Komen’s calculation. But the group should be willing to admit that it is taking sides.