Shattering the Susan G. Komen Pinkwashing

By now you know that, two days ago, the anti-breast-cancer behemoth Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it would no longer fund some Planned Parenthood affiliate's breast-cancer screenings: 

Planned Parenthood said the Komen grants totaled roughly $680,000 last year and $580,000 the year before, going to 19 of its affiliates for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health services. According to Planned Parenthood, its health centers performed more than 4 million breast exams over the past five years, including nearly 170,000 as a result of Komen grants.

Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic reports that, as everyone immediately assumed, Komen was buckling to pressure from anti-abortion activists and staff:

Komen, the marketing juggernaut that brought the world the ubiquitous pink ribbon campaign, says it cut-off Planned Parenthood because of a newly adopted foundation rule prohibiting it from funding any group that is under formal investigation by a government body. (Planned Parenthood is being investigated by Rep. Cliff Stearns, an anti-abortion Florida Republican, who says he is trying to learn if the group spent public money to provide abortions.)

But three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut-off Planned Parenthood. (Komen gives out grants to roughly 2,000 organizations, and the new "no-investigations" rule applies to only one so far.)  The decision to create a rule that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to these sources, was driven by the organization's new senior vice-president for public policy, Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who is staunchly anti-abortion and who has said that since she is "pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood." (The Komen grants to Planned Parenthood did not pay for abortion or contraception services, only cancer detection, according to all parties involved.)...

Three sources told me that the organization's top public-health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board's decision to cut off Planned Parenthood.... John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen's senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public relations aspects of Komen's Planned Parenthood grant, said that Williams believed she could not honorably serve in her position once Komen had caved to pressure from the anti-abortion right. 

Lori Stahl at The Washington Post has other insight into the background:

[T]he decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood comes shortly after Komen unveiled a new partnership that strengthens its ties to the George W. Bush Institute. The institute is the policy-making arm of Bush’s presidential library, which is scheduled to open in Dallas next year.

Of course Nancy Brinker, the Komen founder, says that politics has nothing to do with this decision, as you can see here.

I think it's safe to say that the decision has become a public-relations disaster for Komen. When I checked their Facebook page about 11 a.m. this morning, prompted by a tweet by Jessica Valenti, I found 2,877 comments debating the decision—many, many of them quite outraged. And The Atlantic reports that the Komen website was hacked last night, posting this screenshot, which includes a superimposed line, "Help us run over poor women on our way to the bank." 

On the other hand, the scuffle looks like good news for Planned Parenthood. As ABC reports:

Planned Parenthood said Wednesday that it received more than $400,000 from 6,000 donors in the 24 hours after news broke that its affiliates would be losing grants for breast screenings from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast-cancer foundation.

I have no doubt that more is still coming in. I would bet that PP will raise more than it has lost, in outrage, gaining many new donors who will give in future years as well. 

But the real boon is that PP is getting enormous amounts of free publicity for the fact that it does hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of breast-cancer screenings. And pap smears. And contraceptive counseling sessions. And HIV tests. VasectomiesPregnancy tests. Prenatal care. STD testing. PP is the sexual/reproductive health provider of last resort for millions of women in this country, some of whom can't afford another doctor and some of whom choose to work with PP's specialists. (You can check out its chart here.)

Abortion makes up only 3 percent of its services; contraceptive offerings make up more than 33 percent of its work. Check out some encomiums to its services at the tumblr "Planned Parenthood saved my life," which include:

Years ago, I was new to town, broke and suffering from Endometriosis. I was working at a fast food place that didn’t offer a secure place to put my belongings. My second day on the job, my money and my meds were stolen. 

I made several panicked phone calls. No doctors would see me or write a prescription without seeing me. No body would help. The longer I was off the pill… the worse my symptons [sic] were going to be in the coming months. And I knew that I could lose my job if my cycle was so painful I was down for the count. 

I finally found the Planned Parenthood in our community. I went. They charged me less then $25 and that included a month worth of the Pill.

It is thanks to Planned Parenthood that I was able to get to the place in my life that I could be the mother I am. That is what they do best. 

2ND FEB 2012 | 2 NOTES

Planned Parenthood provided me with access to birth control while I was involved in an abusive relationship.  If I had gotten pregnant while being married to a man who used to physically and emotionally abuse me, I’m not sure I would have survived.

Planned Parenthood started as Margaret Sanger's jail-risking effort to offer contraception to poor American women. For that moral outrage, she was arrested, jailed, and generally subjected to hatred and attack—much as PP leaders have been ever since. 

The Susan G. Komen organization is responsible for the pink scourge in this country. Barbara Ehrenreich nailed the issue in her cult-favorite essay, "Welcome to Cancerland," which discussed the infantilizing and cutesy approach that has taken over the world of breast-cancer care. The pink-ribbon cult has somehow persuaded American women that breast cancer is the worst health threat we face, even though we get many other kinds—where's the "living with brain cancer" marketing group?—and even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health. But if you're a corporation that wants to do something that makes you appear female-friendly, just put a pink ribbon on your product—shirts, makeup kits, football players—or turn your website pink in October. Say that purchases go to "breast-cancer awareness" (no matter how small a percentage of the price actually gets donated). Voila! You are in with the girls. The term is "pinkwashing," and it sets my teeth on edge. 

My beloved Aunt Shelley, who lives in Plano, Texas, had a terrifying bout with breast cancer 20 years ago, when she was relatively young. She credits her Komen support group with carrying her through the experience and her recovery. She is profoundly grateful, and volunteers, runs, etc... In our family, we don't really do gifts for adults; instead we make donations to each others' chosen charities. She's given to mine. So guess what I gave her this year for her birthday? Just what she wanted: a donation to her local Komen chapter. 

That's done now. I'll be giving to another group in her name instead. Maybe ... Planned Parenthood.

You may also like