Pink Politics and Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood, an organization that has faced decades of opposition ranging from incendiary language to incendiary bombs and bullets, has been disowned by one of its former allies in women’s health, the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Founder Nancy Brinker seems to think that it’s out of bounds to question the role of politics in this decision…

Planned Parenthood had received about $700,000 annually from Komen to provide poor women with breast cancer screening, education and access to affordable mammograms…

“The scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful to so many of us,” said Brinker, who founded the group following her sister’s death in 1980 of breast cancer. “More importantly, they are a dangerous distraction from the work that still remains to be done in ridding the world of breast cancer.”

But philanthropy experts said it will be difficult for Komen to convince people it wasn’t playing politics.

Wow. Try going to work with a police escort and a safety plan for bomb threats if you want hurtful. Try hearing in the press that your organization is dumped because of a trumped-up investigation if you want scurrilous. Komen’s bad publicity is self-inflicted. Planned Parenthood didn’t ask to be publicly disowned as untrustworthy by an organization that till now has been second only to ‘Jerry’s Kids’ in tugging America’s heartstrings.

A Mother Jones article lists the exceptions Susan G. Komen Foundation makes to its new rule against funding organizations under investigation. Apparently the Foundation is using selective enforcement.
Jen, a commenter on the article, posted this link to a blogger, dinoiafamily, who describes her own recent battle with breast cancer and the humiliation of being pink-washed…

I spent a good portion of the last year mortified about the type of cancer I had. I received a pink basket in the hospital (for my original surgery) filled with pink, plastic items that included a poem and a “tiddy” bear. I was supposed to be cheered up by the poem, as it was about another woman and how she received a fabulous new set of breasts. I was also supposed to be thrilled by the junk in the basket. Instead I was mortified. A gift basket of organic fruit would be one thing (and, yes, we did receive those and loved them), but this was just beyond painful. Rubbing the pink-washing in my face once again. The basket just reminded me that because I had this recent blip, I was supposed to become a member of another club. Well, no, thank you.

Please understand that not everything pink disturbs me and I know that many pink ribbons are truly meant as a sign of support. However, Komen is not supportive. Coloring buckets of fried chicken pink is not supportive. Putting pink ribbons on products that we don’t need or want is not supportive. In fact, for many of us, it’s a reminder of times we’d rather forget. If anything, Komen was extremely unsupportive when I was diagnosed.

Did they come to my house and cook me meals when I was sick? No, but my friends ensured we were had groceries and dinners for months. Did they visit me in the hospital or take care of my kids? No, but my friends and family made sure that happened. Well, what did they do?

They stepped up their efforts to get money from me. It was almost as if my name was on a new high priority list. As though because I had been diagnosed, I suddenly had the ability and desire to give to an organization that, in my opinion, has done little towards their supposed goal. It took three letters from me and three phone calls from Peter to have my name removed from their mailing list.

Dinoiafamily examines the marketing, message and high administrative costs that make Susan G. Komen a questionable cause to donate to. Read the rest of her excellent post here.

I’m not especially fond of pink anyway, and in years of nursing I’ve seen way too many slick campaigns for pharmaceutical companies and charities. If you had just arrived from Mars you would think that Cancer or AIDS or Diabetes makes people attractive and full of confidence, as they spend their days strolling beaches and frolicking with grandchildren. Guys, being sick sucks. Put that on a bumper sticker.

Planned Parenthood is accessible health care for young and uninsured women. They were my only health care when I was young, as for many of us. The young woman with a breast lump is a statistical outsider, but she is also the one whose life is saved by early detection. She is the woman who can find help at Planned Parenthood. When I needed birth control, Planned Parenthood was there, and they gave me screening, education and prevention information as well.

A few years ago I was invited to go on a Walk for the Cure. I will never forget the huge number of people who turned out. Some in teams. Some wearing shirts with a picture of a mother or a sister or a friend. I never had realized just how many people are affected by breast cancer. Now at an age where family and friends are survivors, I understand what it is to dread a disease.

Pink ribbons and a positive attitude won’t stop cancer. Detection, prevention and research will. I’m sorry that Susan G. Komen chose to put politics over women’s lives. Twenty percent of American women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic at least once. That’s a constituency. Donations have been pouring in. It may be that the Komen Foundation has mis-judged the real situation of the women they exist to serve.

UPDATE: A third high-ranking member of the Komen Foundation is ready to resign over the decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood…

Dr. Kathy Plesser, a Manhattan radiologist on the medical advisory board of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s New York chapter, said she plans to resign from her position unless Komen reverses its decision to pull grant money from Planned Parenthood.

“I’m a physician and my interest is women’s health, and I am disturbed by Komen’s decision because I am a very strong advocate for serving under-served women,” Plesser told The Huffington Post. “Eliminating this funding will mean there’s no place for these women to go. Where are these women to go to have a mammography? Do they not deserve to have mammography?”

With her decision, Plesser joins Komen’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, and the executive director of Komen’s Los Angeles County chapter, Deb Anthony, both of whom also resigned in protest.

MORE: Dave Von Ebbers links to this law journal article about how much donor money the Komen Foundation spends suing other breast cancer charities for using words like ‘for a cure’.

Over the past fifteen years, the Foundation has reviewed eighty-three different groups who have attempted to use the phrase “for the cure” or “for a cure” and pursued legal action against half. Anne Thompson, “Trademark protection by Susan G. Komen organization.” NBC Nightly News Transcripts, Jan. 24, 2011. For example, the Foundation contacted the organization entitled “Kites for a Cure,” which is a kite-flier group dedicated to raising money to cure lung-cancer. The group refused to bow-out quickly, upset over what it believed to be a misdirection of both organizations’ efforts against one another rather than on their common goal.

A PAINFUL BETRAYAL is the title of an editorial in the New York Times. There is definitely a good girl/bad girl dynamic here, and a class aspect as well. Rich girls don’t have to spend much time in clinics. There are times when our common humanity outweighs our differences, life-threatening illness is one of them. It is truly painful to see an organization that exists for women’s health undermine one of the major providers.

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4 responses

  1. Is it true the Komen Foundation is also going to stop funding stem cell research related programs ?

    I wonder sometimes what Susan, herself, would have thought about the foundation with her name on it.

    1. Yes, it’s true. I woke up thinking that a massive PR and fundraising organization might not be the most effective way to achieve their stated end– stopping cancer. I used to work with women from the RI Women’s Breast Health Screening Project, and on the low-income end, lives are being lost for lack of insurance.

  2. It’s Jen from the Dinoia Family. Thank you very much for linking to me and for sharing a portion of the post. I have had a huge response to my post and very glad to know that I am certainly not the only one feeling this way!

    1. Jen, thank you for writing it. Your post is tough but fair and very well-researched. I hope people will follow your link that explains how charities are rated. I wish the best to you and your family.
      My mother is a survivor, we just celebrated her 80th birthday and she’s looking good.

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