Author: Shaffer, Ellen
Date published: March 1, 2012
In early February we all learned a lot about Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Planned Parenthood, and breast cancer. Komen, the successful breast cancer research fundraiser known for its pink-ribbon campaigns, announced it would not renew grants for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health services offered at nineteen Planned Parenthood affiliates. Their stated reason was because Planned Parenthood was under congressional investigation. Insiders say Komen implemented this "new rule" specifically to target the women's healthcare provider and, indeed, there was a House investigation launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) last fall to determine whether Planned Parenthood spent public money on abortions. However, most agree that the question had already been put to rest by federal audits and that conservatives were merely on a witchhunt.
As we know, the move was a huge PR failure for Komen, as it became clear via Facebook, Twitter, and a new Tumblr site, Planned Parenthood Saved Me, that many women value and rely on Planned Parenthood for breast cancer exams and other preventive health services. On February 3, at the end of a very contentious week, Komen apologized and reopened the door a crack to allow for the possibility of future grants to Planned Parenthood, stating that a group under federal investigation could only be disqualified for funding consideration if the investigation was shown to be "criminal and conclusive in nature and not political."
In her February 2 post to Our Bodies, Our Blog, contributor Christine Cupaiuolo detailed how the incident has brought attention to ongoing critiques of Komen for the Cure. "In recent years, there's been growing criticism of Komen's ties to companies that don pink ribbons each year while developing products that contain carcinogens and increase cancer risks," Cupaiuolo wrote, identifying the practice known as "pinkwashing," She also noted that Komen's screening guidelines are at odds with recommendations put forth in 2009 by the U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce and that they've continued to promote certain drugs even after evidence showed they were ineffective in treating breast cancer. Even so, the focus of the recent Planned Parenthood situation has been on Komen's pro-life politics.
The entire debacle can be seen as a victory for Planned Parenthood and for women nationwide, but we must now start thinking about how to mobilize an outcry to really stop the attacks on women's health.
While Komen, anti-choice evangelicals, Rep. Stearns, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are upset with Planned Parenthood because a small portion of their services are abortion-related (3 percent in 2010; cancer screening and prevention accounted for 14.5 percent), they're also really mad because, to put it simply, Planned Parenthood helps people plan. Parenthood. You know. They support birth control. In some cases, they provide it. Like your corner drugstore, but better.
The Catholic bishops are also howling because in January the Obama administration refused to grant a broad religious exemption to contraception coverage.
Never mind that virtually all Catholics use birth control, that the church itself only began to oppose it in 1968, and that the pope recently conceded that condoms are useful and approved their use for stopping the transmission of AIDS.
Never mind that most Catholicaffiliated hospitals, schools, and charities cover birth control in their health plans- health plans that come out of the wages employees earn themselves.
Never mind that undergraduate and graduate students are fighting for coverage - and are still being denied, even for medical reasons.
Close to every cent the Catholic Church has not spent settling lawsuits against priests who sexually molested children has gone into the media campaign to rile up opposition to covering birth control. So far they're doing a pretty effective job of it. The Obama administration is standing firm, but conservatives in Congress are still on the warpath.
Humanists can send a message that they stand against attacks on birth control and with Planned Parenthood. They might also want to learn more about the men behind the war on women, namely the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and their lobbyists. They're not going away anytime soon.
Ellen Shaffer is co-director of the Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign, a project of the Center for Policy Analysis. Judy Norsigian is co-founder and executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves and the American Humanist Association's 2011 Humanist Heroine.