In what looks to be a break between two organizations dedicated to women’s health, a national breast cancer awareness group said it would stop providing funds to Planned Parenthood centers for breast cancer examinations and other breast health services.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leader in fundraising for breast cancer research and famous worldwide for its iconic pink ribbon, said Tuesday that it was halting all partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates because of recently adopted criteria that forbid it from funding any organization under government investigation.
In September, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) launched an inquiry to determine whether Planned Parenthood uses public money to fund abortions. Planned Parenthood receives federal money but cannot use it to provide abortions.
Komen has a long history of providing funding to various Planned Parenthood affiliates for such services as manual breast exams and referrals for mammograms and biopsies to check suspicious lumps for cancer. Although that money is not used for abortions, the Komen Foundation may have yielded to demands from antiabortion groups to sever its ties to Planned Parenthood.
“We had the sense this was coming and that they were under pressure,” said Sue Dunlap, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. “I find this really disappointing. I think when women’s health is more of a political conversation than a conversation about healthcare and taking care of people, then we’ve gone too far.”
Officials for Planned Parenthood Federation of America said they learned of Komen’s new stance on funding late last year and asked the Komen board of directors for a meeting to resolve any issues or questions related to funding. The meeting did not take place, said Cecile Richards, the federation’s president.
“We are alarmed and saddened that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation appears to have succumbed to political pressure,” Richards said in a statement. “Our greatest desire is for Komen to reconsider this policy and recommit to the partnership on which so many women count.”
Over the last five years, Planned Parenthood has provided about 4 million breast exams and referrals for 70,000 mammograms nationwide. Funding from Komen covers about 170,000 of the breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals, Richards said. Although mammograms and biopsies are referred out, Planned Parenthood doctors manage their patients’ cases.
Officials from the Komen Foundation could not be reached for comment. But in an earlier interview with the Associated Press, Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said that the decision was based solely on the Stearns investigation and did not imply wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.
“We want to maintain a positive relationship with them,” Aun told the Associated Press. “We’re not making any judgment.”
In Orange County, the loss of Komen grants will end programs to reach out to special groups in need of breast cancer education, said Stephanie Kight, senior vice president of the Planned Parenthood affiliate for Orange and San Bernardino counties.
One Komen grant funded outreach to Vietnamese women in which Planned Parenthood workers would provide breast health education in hair and nail salons and other gathering places for Vietnamese women. Another allowed the chapter to fund referrals for biopsies for women who had suspicious lumps discovered during breast exams at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
The $120,000 annual grants the affiliate received from Komen made up half of its yearly budget for breast health care, Kight said.
“We’ve been long-time partners with Komen in taking care of women’s breast health,” said Kight, who added that her affiliate had not yet been informed of Komen’s decision to halt Planned Parenthood funding. “If this decision was brought on because of political pressure, that would be really disappointing.”
Antiabortion groups lauded the decision and described it as the result of years of lobbying from Americans who oppose abortion.
“I know that hundreds, even thousands, of people reached out to Komen to request they stop giving to Planned Parenthood. That was constant over the years,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. “Pro-life people object because Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion chain. Every dollar they take in facilitates their operations.”
Planned Parenthood has become the central target of antiabortion groups, Scheidler added. Last year, the organization, which serves about 3 million people a year for reproductive healthcare and other primary-care services, was the focus of a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) that would have halted its federal funding. About one-third of Planned Parenthood’s $1.1-billion national budget comes from the federal government.
The bill was defeated. But the Komen Foundation decision “really shows that when pro-life people make their views known in a vocal way, through all of those phone calls and emails and public protests, it can have an impact,” Scheidler said. “It’s really encouraging and, hopefully, will be followed by other corporate donors to Planned Parenthood.”
The decision spurred vigorous comment on websites across the country Tuesday night.
“Shame, shame, shame on Susan G Komen. I thought you cared about women’s health,” wrote one visitor to the Susan G. Komen “Sound off!” message board. “Betrayal,” wrote another: “I have had friends and family members who have survived breast cancer and other cancers. ... I will never make another contribution to another SGK event or cause.”
“Thank you!!! Susan G. Komen for breaking your ties with abortionists!” wrote a third. “Never should you have supported them, regardless of their non-abortion activities.”
The action is bound to stir up feelings of torn allegiance, Kight said. Orange County’s Planned Parenthood and the local Komen Foundation chapter have had a close working relationship designed to support common goals, and women’s health advocates are likely to feel baffled by which organization to align with.
“Our affiliate always sponsors a team of 30 to 40 people who participate in the Race for the Cure,” Kight said, referring to a major Komen fundraiser. “I don’t know what we’ll do now. When we go to the Komen race, we’re all just women.”
Times staff writer Jeannine Stein contributed to this report.