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.

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