Guilty Until Proven Innocent?: Is Komen Putting Women’s Health at Risk?

Image via iStockPhoto/Amanda Rohde

When I read that the Susan G. Komen Foundation withdrew financial support of Planned Parenthood’s screening services, I was stunned. The partnership of two respected organizations working together to help women get the preventive care they need seemed to be such a natural affiliation. I couldn’t imagine what could cause such a rift. Well, I soon learned.

It’s been widely suggested (for example, here) that Komen’s decision was based on the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services. Regardless of their reasoning, in withdrawing it’s support, Komen appears to be declaring that some women (those who seek care at Planned Parenthood) are unworthy of cancer screening and the increased chance of survival that early detection affords.

From the Associated Press story: “Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity’s newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities.”

Such a “guilty until proven innocent” policy encourages seamy tactics between adversaries, in this case financially penalizing Planned Parenthood – provider of preventive and reproductive health care services to women with few options – for simply being the subject of an allegation.

As this chart illustrates, Planned Parenthood is about much more than abortions, which – as of this writing – are legal. But the result here is that Komen is complicit in denying women health care and potentially lifesaving screenings. Simply put, any policy that creates negative consequences that fly in the face of your own mission is a bad policy.

On their About Us page, the Komen Foundation says, “As the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, we’re working together to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.” That’s a lovely sentiment. It’s also important work, since The American Cancer Society estimated that there would be 232,620 U.S. women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011.

Planned Parenthood estimates that it provides approximately 750,000 breast exams each year and that one in five U.S. women will visit one of their centers at least once in her life. Where would you invest if you truly want to reach women in need of cancer education and screening services? According to their annual report, the Susan G. Komen Foundation collected over $400 million through fundraising, ‘Race’ activities and other revenue in 2010. I’m frankly surprised that Komen’s defunded grants to Planned Parenthood’s work totaled a mere $680,000.

It’s still hard for me to believe that women’s health is treated as a political shuttlecock, rather than a human right. But there we are.

If Komen is playing politics with women’s health, and hiding behind revised criteria, I encourage them to grow a pair and clearly state their goals so that potential donors can make informed decisions. And if this was at its heart a business decision not based on politics, I encourage Komen to reconsider their criteria so they can make good on their commitment to protect the lives and health of women.

Thea Joselow is a freelance writer and online editor based in Bethesda, Maryland. She has worked in digital media for such illustrious institutions as National Public Radio, Smithsonian Magazine, and at a strategic communications firm in Washington, DC. By far her favorite professional qualification was that for a brief time she wrote the online quiz for the Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me program. Currently, she blogs at nutgraf.net, runs the Cancer is an Asshole ongoing fundraiser, and BookGraf, a low-impact book club.

Oh, and she’s somebody’s mother.

leonard Nimoy Full Body Project
You’ll Remember Leonard Nimoy As Spock. I’ll Remember Him As a ‘Love Your Body’ Activist For Women
john-legend-and-common-selma
The Incredible Oscar Moment Almost Everyone Missed
749606510_4f7d9c174c
Kim Gordon and I Should Have Drinks And Talk About Men
Jessica Williams, The Daily Show, Imposter Syndrome
Jessica Williams Isn’t Ours to Diagnose
john-legend-and-common-selma
The Incredible Oscar Moment Almost Everyone Missed
Jessica Williams, The Daily Show, Imposter Syndrome
Jessica Williams Isn’t Ours to Diagnose
Hillary Clinton thin resume, Hillary Clinton too dangerous, Hillary Clinton not qualified for president
Hillary Clinton is Dangerous and Her Resume is Too “Thin?”
Black History Month, Selma, Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta King
“Selma” Forgot One Important Story: Coretta Scott King’s
Hillary Clinton thin resume, Hillary Clinton too dangerous, Hillary Clinton not qualified for president
Hillary Clinton is Dangerous and Her Resume is Too “Thin?”
hillary_david_axelrod
12 Pieces of Advice for Hillary Clinton That Aren’t From a Man
Phillly paid sick days
Hey, Philadelphia! Guess Who’s Getting Paid Sick Days?!
Presidents' Day, when will a woman be president
Presidents’ Day: Time for a Woman in the White House
alizagraying_edited-1
I Am Not My Gray Hair. My Hair Is Not Me.
1CHRISTMASCARD
Things I Did Instead of Send This Christmas Card
New England weather, severe weather and depression, The Shining
It’s Getting All ‘The Shining’ Up In Here
4717207794_7d91f82bb3_b1
My 18 Year Old Daughter Is In Jail And I’m Second Guessing Every Choice I Made
alizagraying_edited-1
I Am Not My Gray Hair. My Hair Is Not Me.
4717207794_7d91f82bb3_b1
My 18 Year Old Daughter Is In Jail And I’m Second Guessing Every Choice I Made
Alzheimer's, medical care for Alzheimer's patients, end of life care
This Is How You Die
reinvention culture, Oprah and reinvention, More Magazine and reinvention, women stop reinventing yourselves
Reinvention Culture is Killing Me
Vintage_Valentine_02
Cupid’s Weekend Cocktails: It Takes Two
hating valentine's day, valentine's day
Dear Valentine’s Day: I Hate You
Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey: I Have Other Fanatasies

Get our new weekly email
Broadly Speaking

featuring our best words for the week + an exclusive longread