Komengate: Why This Matters


Dear readers, I’m taking a break from my already interrupted Blogging Blitz to offer my personal perspectives on the Susan G. Komen v. Planned Parenthood conversation. With a heaping side order of Medical Sociology.

Before we get started, let me provide a few stipulations. First, this is not, not, not a discussion on the morality of abortion. Next, this argument is, is, is grounded in LadyMo biases and I fully acknowledge and accept those biases. Finally, I respect that this is a heated topic and I welcome thoughtful and civil discussion (even I will do my best).

Let’s start with the basics.

Susan G. Komen is a widely known and heavily funded breast cancer research organization. Over the past 2o years, Komen has invested over $2 billion in breast cancer research, advocacy, services, and education. In addition to their history of commitment to women’s health, they are also popular for pink-washing just about everything. Any “pink” promotional product is almost exclusively a Komen partner.

Planned Parenthood, probably as notorious Komen (if not more), is a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health information and services to, generally, underserved and underprivileged populations. Many people mistakenly suggest that Planned Parenthood deals exclusively abortion services. In reality, abortions account for less than 3% of the total services provided. Planned Parenthood is often in the spotlight, especially during election season, as many politicians propose to defund the NPO on the basis of abortion services, contraceptive services, and comprehensive sex education. Again, I reiterate, abortions account for less than 3% of all services offered (STI/cancer screening and treatment account for 52% of the total services).

For the past 5 years, Komen and Planned Parenthood have been partners in being able to provide breast cancer screenings, advocacy, and mammography referrals to underprivileged women. Their partnership was productive and benefitted those who needed it most.

Last week, however, Komen announced that it would be breaking ties with Planned Parenthood and would discontinue it’s nearly $700,000 annual grant. People went bonkers; the pro-lifers cheered and the pro-choicers were pissed. From what I’ve been reading, it seems as if one woman, Karen Handel, was the driving force behind the defunding. Here’s a brief background on Handel: she ran in the 2010 Georgia gubernatorial election on specific anti-gay rights and anti-Planned Parenthood platforms. While in office, she intended to defund Planned Parenthood and promote anti-gay rights legislature. She lost the election to Nathan Deal and was soon appointed as Senior Vice President of Susan G. Komen.** Almost a year after Handel’s appointment, Komen announced it will stop funding Planned Parenthood because of a grant policy that prevents organizations under federal investigation to receive funding. A policy, I might add, that was solely proposed, crafted, and implemented by Handel.

Within 48 hours of the defunding announcement, and after much backlash, especially from media, Komen reinstated it’s funding to Planned Parenthood.

Caught up?

There are a number of social problems that are illuminated by Komengate. I believe most the most important issue we must consider is that politicians feel free to use and abuse women’s bodies as political battlefields. My body is not your campaign strategy! Got it?! Thousands of poor and underrepresented women were systematically denied access to life saving services because one of one woman’s goal to take down Planned Parenthood.

Tamara Dietrich summarizes this issue perfectly:

How one feels about abortion — a legal procedure — should have no bearing on whether to provide women with life-saving breast exams. Yet there are anti-abortion activists so keen to kill Planned Parenthood that they’d sacrifice women to do it.

Here’s another issue: Komen reaffirms it’s position that the decision to defund Planned Parenthood was not a consequence of political pressure (specifically pressure from Charmaine Yoest, an avid pro-lifer and President-CEO of Americans United for Life), but an effort to comply with organization policies. Let me reiterate that policy, one that was championed by a woman whose goal was to defund Planned Parenthood, was to deny grant money to any institution under federal investigation. Planned Parenthood is always under investigation. But, as of November 2011, Penn State, another Komen benefactor, was also under federal investigation for the response to the rape of at least 8 young boys. In an apparent violation of the very policy that rendered Planned Parenthood ineligible to receive it’s annual $700,000 grant to provide life saving services to women, Komen granted $7.5 million to Penn State.

So where does this leave us? Dissected. Why does this matter? As a woman, and along with every other sister with a vagina or a breast, my body is carelessly used as political ammunition and my access to life-saving services are constantly being jeopardized. There are culture wars waged against/on behalf of parts of female anatomy. Women’s bodies are being dissected by politics to the consequence of neglecting that women are whole beings. Policies implemented by Komen are not about saving lives; they are about abusing underrepresented women and overly medicalized body parts to promote the agenda of single-issue activists.

So, LadyMo readers, it’s your turn. Discuss.

**I’m open to correction and modification, as my information is largely supplied by news media and wikipedia.


4 responses »

  1. I agree with what you say here, Lady Mo. I heard an analysis on NPR that cleared a few things up and cut through all the politics and propoganda. That said, I strongly believe that once a woman has consented to becoming pregnant (don’t scream at me just yet) she has an obligation – along with her partner in this consent – to shoulder the responsibility for the life that lives inside her. From Conception! We cannot determine “when life begins”, and I believe we must err on the side of life.

    Now, in cases where the woman didn’t consent to becoming pregnant – we have a much more difficult decision. As a potential grandparent, I would accept the responsibility for that child regardless of whether my daughter was raped or not – but then that’s not my choice – it’s hers. In cases where the decision is between one life (the mother’s) and another (the child’s) the decision is likewise much more complicated.

    The LDS church, I think, has it right. For me – I would do all I could to support the life that is brought into my family – considering it an assignment from God – even if it was conceived through by rape or (heaven forbid) incest. The Lord will make a way, and it is a sacred obligation that I could not turn away from. Abortion is not an option, and I submit that ALL women (and men) have the same obligation.

    Sorry if I’m turning this into a dialogue on abortion. The topic, and you’re right – women’s bodies – are being politicized, and that’s not right. It’s not about politics, it’s about morality and the sacredness of life.


  2. “It’s not about politics, it’s about morality and the sacredness of life.”

    I absolutely agree. And that’s why this is worth discussing. Komen chose to bow to political pressure at the risk of human lives. For those women who had no choice in this decision, but who rely so heavily on services provided by Planned Parenthood, my heart breaks.

  3. I respect your views and your respect for the views of others. But one thing doesn’t make sense to me. So many people said they wouldn’t support Komen anymore because of her stance with PP because they thought she (the komen foundation) was putting the abortion debate before cancer research. But by threatening to stop supporting her, they put they abortion debate before cancer. Wherever Komen goes or partners with, I will support her quest for a cancer cure. I wish more liberal minded people could put the abortion debate behind them as well, and just fight for a cure. And, it is a statistical fact that if abortion was done away with it would save the lives of far many more women around the world than a cure for cancer. Millions of women are killed before they take their first breath just because they are female. I think we could get cancer screening to the poor and disabled without supporting abortion. I don’t think this should be a choice between the unborn women and the women with cancer. We can protect both!

  4. Regina – I’m so grateful you came over here!

    Gender selective abortion is a whole other social problem that needs to be widely and furiously discussed. I think we could both dedicate an entire book or seven to the topic. My concern with the relationship between Komen and Planned Parenthood is not one of two groups deciding to break ties, and not even an abortion vs. cancer tug of war, but the personal bias of one individual. Top Komen representatives resigned following the policy decision in November, and even more this month. My concern and anger isn’t even that one individual who does not support what constitutes less than 3% of an institutions activity decided to deny access to services more than half of that institution’s population.

    I will be the first to say that, as a flaming liberal, I would love to see abortion eradicated, but not at the cost of woman’s choice over her body. I’d LOVE to see more comprehensive sex, gender, and social education to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Again, another post for another time.

    My biggest, and most furious concern is that and how we use women’s bodies as political tools. It’s not fair. It’s completely unnecessary. And unwilling participants continue to be harmed or killed because of politicking. I’d love for us as a politically divided country to find a way to discuss these issues in a way that brings the most good to all people without destroying lives in the process. I think the first step in achieving that is by leaving women’s bodies out of the conversation. But that’s hard, too, because we’re talking about women’s bodies.

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