By Chris Cronin
Elm Staff Writer
You’ve probably heard of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure campaign against breast cancer, or at least seen some of the ubiquitous pink merchandise it sells to raise money. The charity is large, well-known, and generously funded, and it has paid for a myriad of treatment and research ventures which have undoubtedly improved the lives of thousands of American women. Despite its size, Susan G. Komen has maintained a good reputation; the charity accountability group Charity Navigator gave the organization four out of four stars overall.
However, that reputation was tarnished last Tuesday. Less than a year ago, Susan G. Komen For the Cure hired a new vice president, Karen Handel. Handel had run for governor of Georgia in 2010 on an intensely anti-abortion platform, which, although unsuccessful, won the endorsement of Sarah Palin. As an extension of her anti-abortion platform, Handel campaigned against Planned Parenthood, writing on a campaign blog that she did not support their mission.
It should come as no surprise, then, that last week, the Susan G. Komen For the Cure campaign tried to pull all funding from Planned Parenthood centers. The Susan G. Komen grants, totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, were mainly intended for free breast screenings. In the past five years, Susan G. Komen grants paid for 170,000 breast exams. The simple fact that Susan G. Komen would pull money from an organization with a proven track record for helping women beat breast cancer is, at best, hard to accept.
But what is worse is that this was clearly a decision made for political reasons. The Huffington Post reported a Susan G. Komen insider as saying that Karen Handel was “the prime instigator of this effort.” To make matters worse, none of the money donated to Planned Parenthood was being used for abortions. While Komen is certainly allowed to hold a personal conviction against abortion, her decision to defund Planned Parenthood did nothing to actually stop abortions. Rather, it is an attack on the organization itself, which has been under fire from anti-abortion groups and congressional Republicans for years (including Sarah Palin).
Susan G. Komen For the Cure is no stranger to attacking other charities. In December 2010, the Huffington Post reported that the organization had filed a legal trademark opposition against over a hundred other charities, mainly small start-ups, that also used the words “for the cure,” such as Kites for the Cure and Surfing for the Cure. These legal fees add up to almost a million dollars per year in donor funds. But Susan G. Komen’s decision to attack another charity on political grounds is inexcusable.
Thankfully, many Americans agree, including 50 members of Congress and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Faced with a huge public backlash, the organization reversed its decision on this year’s Planned Parenthood grants, returning the money to the women that need it. Following this reversal, Karen Handel submitted her resignation, accusing Planned Parenthood of “vicious attacks” and claiming she had nothing to do with the decision, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.
However, the founder of Susan G. Komen, Nancy Brinker, defended Handel’s decision and made no promise to renew those grants in the future. It is still possible that Susan G. Komen will try to quietly withdraw that funding next year. It’s time for Brinker to make a public promise that Susan G. Komen For the Cure will put the interests of women above short-term partisan wrangling. Until then, I’m not sure that Susan G. Komen deserves your money.