Komen reverses decision to deny funding to Planned Parenthood

After three days of tumult, the breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced it had reversed its decision to deny further grants to Planned Parenthood Federation of America for breast-health services.

The decision follows an outpouring of criticism from politicians and other nonprofit organizations, as well as strong public reaction via Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

"We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives," Friday's statement from Komen said.

"The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.

"Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair."

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards expressed relief in a Friday news conference after the Komen foundation's about-face, calling it "a victory for women and for women who rely on this care."

"I do believe that the Komen foundation has been the target of political bullying, the same forces that have been out trying to deny women access to birth control over the last year," Richards added, referring to pressure from groups opposed to abortion that the leading charity stop funding Planned Parenthood.

Friday's reversal, Richards said, "sends an important message … that women are willing to stand up for women andwomen's health."

According to Komen officials, the move to cut off grants to Planned Parenthood was based on a new policy not to fund organizations that are under investigation. Planned Parenthood has been the subject of an inquiry by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla) into whether the organization used federal funds for abortion services.

But in a Thursday news conference, Komen founder and chief executive Nancy Brinker questioned whether Planned Parenthood was the best choice for breast-health funding by Komen because it doesn't provide mammograms and biopsies in-house, but rather provides outside referrals for these procedures.

Nonetheless, Planned Parenthood's Richards said she had read the Komen statement and would take the reversal in good faith.

"I certainly take them at their word," Richards said. "And I think what we've seen around the country is there is incredible partnership between our local health centers, and our doctors and nurses, with the Komen foundation local leadership."

Indeed, many local Komen affiliates had publicly expressed support for Planned Parenthood and disappointment in the initial decision by the national Komen board. They now have chimed in with relief.

Among them was the Los Angeles County affiliate, one of seven in California that had released a statement Thursday saying they were strongly opposed to the new policy, that they were working with national headquarters and would "not rest until this issue is resolved."

The L.A. affiliate posted a message on its Facebook page noting that "the Los Angeles Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure is very pleased that national Komen has revised their policy regarding funding. The Los Angeles Affiliate was among the many voices urging national Komen to reconsider their decision, and we are glad that all of our voices were heard."

"It's all been very surprising," said Elizabeth Berger, president of the board for Komen's Los Angeles County chapter.

Anne Morris, executive director for Susan G. Komen for the Cure Connecticut, based in Farmington, said her office had just released a letter of opposition to the plans to defund Planned Parenthood, only to receive an email message from Komen about the reversal a few hours later.

Morris said she felt "very good. I think it's very positive." She said the Connecticut office received many calls and emails the last few days, most decrying Komen's earlier decision and a few backing it.

"What's really important is to get back to the mission," Morris said. "I, for one, have spent three full days on this. My time would be much better focused on breast-health needs in the state of Connecticut."

Other Komen officials were also happy to get back to work.

"I'm delighted that they did it and that they did it quickly," said Dr. Kathy Plesser, a radiologist based in New York City. Plesser told The Times earlier this week that she planned to resign from the medical advisory board of Susan G. Komen Greater New York City if the new funding rules were not amended.

Now that the "unfortunate decision" had been reversed, she said, she would not step down from her position.

But if some groups and individuals expressed happiness with Komen's about-face, others opposed to abortion did not.

Americans United for Life president and chief executive Dr. Charmaine Yoest said in a statement: "As a breast cancer survivor, I am troubled that the Komen Foundation has come under such heavy fire for their recent decision to tighten and focus their funding guidelines.

"This week we have all been witness to highly partisan attacks from pro-abortion advocates and an ugly and disgraceful shakedown that highlights Planned Parenthood's willingness to pursue a scorched-earth strategy to force compliance with their pro-abortion agenda."

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, said he was confused by Komen's latest statements.

He noted the remarks Thursday by Brinker, Komen's chief executive, that Planned Parenthood's breast-health services were not necessarily ideal because it provides "pass through" services instead of direct health services to women.

Scheidler added that he is taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding Komen's funding policies. "For the time being," he said, "we're calling on pro-lifers to support Komen's decision to change their guidelines and directly help women, but not to make any donations until we see what happens in the future."

"The really sad thing is that Planned Parenthood has shown they're willing to take women suffering from breast cancer hostage in order to guarantee these funds from Komen, which are really a drop in the bucket," Scheidler said. "This is a mafia-style shakedown of Komen for the Cure, and Komen has been victimized by Planned Parenthood."

Politicians from around heavily Democratic California were just as quick to cheer on the reversal as they had been to denounce the cutoff earlier this week.

"I am pleased the Komen Foundation reversed its decision and will continue its collaboration with Planned Parenthood, a partnership that has provided vital breast cancer screenings to millions of women across the country," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement Friday.

"The divisiveness caused by the original Komen decision did not reflect well on the foundation's positive work," she continued. "This is a victory for women's health and a huge win for all the men and women who made their voices heard this week."

Feinstein was one of more than two dozen senators to sign a letter earlier this week asking Komen to reverse the decision. Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) wrote a letter as well, and state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) had said he would no longer serve as a "Pink Tie Guy" for the organization.

The days-long roller coaster of statements and reactions is a good lesson in how not to do crisis management, said consultants who have been watching the events unfold.

The situation has been a "total embarrassment" for Komen, said Tom Madden, chief executive of TransMedia Group, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based public relations ad crisis management company.

"There should have been a lot of thought through that kind of decision, and it sounds to me like the ramifications and pressures they were under were not anticipated, which was a failure of planning. I can't believe an organization like Komen wasn't aware of what was going on."

Reversing the decision so quickly after such a strong backlash was the right thing for Komen to do, added Michael Gordon, chief executive of Group Gordon, a New York-based corporate and crisis communication firm.

"They were in the bull's eye, and it was clear that they were on the defensive and needed to make a change if they wanted to preserve all the good will they have built up over the years."

But, the two consultants added, if Komen is up front and transparent with supporters as well as detractors from now on, it could recover from this and eventually have the debacle be a paragraph in its history.

"I think they will survive and continue to thrive," Gordon said.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, meanwhile, has benefited, Richards said. Over the last few days, the organization has received about $3 million for its national breast-health fund, set up in the wake of Komen's initial decision to yank funds.

This would allow the organization "to expand our breast care work beyond our wildest dreams."

amina.khan@latimes.com

Times staff writers Eryn Brown and Jeannine Stein contributed to this report.

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