To hear much of the American media tell it, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast-cancer charity that recently cut its ties with Planned Parenthood before (sort of) backing down, should simply be no more: It has gone from being a women’s health charity to becoming anti-woman, as the National Organization for Women’s president, Terry O’Neill, explained. She predicted to MSNBC host Ed Schultz that within five years or so it will cease to exist, and good riddance.
Komen — which had literally made the White House pink for breast-cancer awareness and had pink products all over the Macy’s makeup counter this Christmas — has been an overwhelming presence in American culture. It’s the force behind the walks for breast-cancer education, fundraising, and memorializing. Its campaigns are everywhere. And just yesterday, it seems, it was a good and secure member of the liberal-feminist sisterhood, represented by the likes of O’Neill and the rest of the political activists who keep the Democratic party singing the tune of the abortion industry.
That was until a few days ago, when Komen announced that it would halt grants to Planned Parenthood, and was immediately accused of having surrendered to misogynist pro-lifers. Komen has, in fact, long been subject to various pro-life boycott efforts because of the controversial relationship. But in the last year, the force field that had long protected Planned Parenthood from criticism cracked, culminating in the House voting to cut off federal funds for the first time (the Democratic Senate didn’t follow suit).
Even a blogger for Slate, hardly a conservative pro-life organ, cited a report that found various state branches of the organization employing improper billing practices, and a troubling record of failing to report domestic abuse.
This kind of documentation exposes the falsity of the simplistic framing of the Komen news and anything having to do with Planned Parenthood. Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life, the organization that published the report mentioned on Slate, got involved with Komen when she found herself with breast cancer. As a pro-life activist, she was discomfited by Komen’s close relationship with Planned Parenthood; she considers Komen’s original decision to stop funding it “smart stewardship” and she currently plans to be part of a “Team Life” in an upcoming Komen march.
Komen has been outgunned in the public-relations wars in recent days, and in a desperate maneuver to halt the onslaught, the group announced that it would honor current grant commitments to Planned Parenthood and noncommittally kept the door open for future funding.
But its decision doesn’t deserve the backlash it has received. A fair-minded observer could reasonably see the decision as inevitable: In an era when so many of us have such unprecedented access to a vast array of information resources, it was hard for Komen to overlook the fact that Planned Parenthood is not a mecca for mammograms — they don’t do them; they don’t have the facilities. Komen’s mission to end breast cancer is not being directly served by Planned Parenthood.
Even with its regrettable backpedaling, Komen’s reservations about working with the organization have struck a blow to the conventional spin that woman’s health and pro-abortion views are inextricably linked.
The real pity of commentators looking for some kind of scandal in Komen’s daring to review the Planned Parenthood grants is that there is actually a fair, nonpartisan way to analyze the news. That Slate article demonstrates this. Outrage, meanwhile, at the suggestion that there are people in Komen who might oppose abortion betrays a real ideological isolation. It so happens that pro-life Republican women get breast cancer too, and their personal combat with death isn’t likely to convert them to an ideology that is disturbingly comfortable with erring on the side of death.
Unlike Terry O’Neill and her friends on MSNBC, I make no predictions about Komen’s future. But it’s safe to say that the discerning news consumer might just be a little more skeptical about “women’s health” rhetoric, in light of some of the hysterics with which Komen’s former political and media sisters have resorted to. Actual women’s health deserves better, as do individual human lives, than ideological litmus tests and scorched-earth policies.
Email Kathryn Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org.