With one policy change, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure has gone from a respected heal advocacy charity, to a crass political actor. And that’s a shame.
He organization’s socialite founder was all over TV today trying to contain the damage from a decision they actually started making in December: to hire a right wing, anti-abortion, anti-contraception conservative firebrand on the rebound from a failed run for Georgia governor, and then, likely at her direction, to sever it’s grant-making ties to Planned Parenthood.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has done some excellent reporting on the controversy and has this today:
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 Representative 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.) I’ve tried to reach Handel for comment, and will update this post if I speak with her.
The decision, made in December, caused an uproar inside Komen. 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. Williams, who served as the managing director of community-health programs, was responsible for directing the distribution of $93 million in annual grants. Williams declined to comment when I reached her yesterday on whether she had resigned her position in protest, and she declined to speak about any other aspects of the controversy.
But 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. “Mollie is one of the most highly respected and ethical people inside the organization, and she felt she couldn’t continue under these conditions,” Hammarley said. “The Komen board of directors are very politically savvy folks, and I think over time they thought if they gave in to the very aggressive propaganda machine of the anti-abortion groups, that the issue would go away. It seemed very shortsighted to me.”
Goldberg also got a statement from Williams.
That’s what happened, but the more salient point, is what it means. And for that, we stay with the Atlantic, where Linda Hirshman writes this:
Skeptical commentators are speculating that Komen bowed to political pressure. As conservatives increasingly targeted Planned Parenthood in recent months, various organizations explicitly upped the ante with Komen over their support of the non-profit. The Southern Baptists pulled their Pink Bible program, which produced a dollar for Komen with every Bible sold. Last April, Komen hired as vice president for public policy Karen Handel, a failed Republican candidate with a long online history of hostility to Planned Parenthood and contraception in general. And then it enacted its new rule.
The skepticism is further fueled by the weirdness of a rule letting any city council member or random state legislator decide to defund a Komen grantee just by starting an “investigation.” The Department of HHS rejected Stearns’ invitation to look into Planned Parenthood months ago, and, even if he were dead on, Stearns isn’t suggesting there’s something wrong with Planned Parenthood’s cancer screening. What if the IRS was looking into a hospital’s tax status? Or almost any member of the Arizona legislature was worrying that an in-state facility with Komen money was harboring illegal immigrants? Would Komen have to pull their funding too?
A point also made by Sen. Barbara Boxer during an excellent segment on the controversy on Andrea Mitchell Reports today that included a very personal Mitchell interview with Komen’s founder, with whom Mitchell has long been friends. From Politico:
In addition, Komen President Elizabeth Thompson insisted the changes aren’t about Planned Parenthood. The Komen foundation will re-evaluate “several” organizations that potentially do not meet its eligibility criteria, she said, not just Planned Parenthood.
Brinker also appeared on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” to explain the group’s decision.
“Many of the grants we were doing with Planned Parenthood do not meet new standards of criteria for how we can measure our results and effectiveness in communities,” Brinker said.
But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who also appeared on the show, called Brinker’s explanations of the policy change “revisionist.”
“I was not born yesterday, as most of your viewers can tell. And the fact is, I’m reminded of the McCarthy era, where somebody said: ‘Oh, a congressman stands up a senator. I’m investigating this organization, and therefore, people should stop funding them,’” Boxer said.
Ding ding! And in this case the part of Joseph McCarthy is being played by a Florida congressman named Cliff Stearns. And his home state, Florida, has become such a hotbed of anti-abortion activity, 18 bills restricting abortion passed the statehouse last yea, five of which were signed into law. Florida’s latest contribution to the anti woman’s liberty cause? A bill that would effectively ban abortion altogether in the state, unless the woman requesting it was literally on her death bed.
But this isn’t a post about abortion. It’s a post about an organization that has joined the political anti-abortion cause, when their ostensive purpose was to fight breast cancer.
Now that Susan G. Komen has turned itself over to the anti-abortion movement, there’s no turning back.
Meanwhile, ABL unearths another Komen political skeleton: lobbying against the ACA, which is fine, but also political. Not to mention that the law happens to include free breast exams. Ahem.
Oh, and there’s another Komen grantee under investigation. You’ll never guess who it is…
Lastly, the screenshot at the top of this page is of a tweet that was retweeted by Karen Handel and then quickly deleted. But screenshots are forever.