Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Susan G. Komen Foundation: Extremism Over Mammograms

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

My mom is a breast cancer survivor.

When she was diagnosed in early December of 2009, I was just 20 days short of the biggest transition of my young life. I was moving 1,100 miles away from everyone I knew. Of course, the idea of leaving my family at a time when my mom would need more support than ever was terrifying. That Christmas, 3 days before my departure, I gave her a Susan G. Komen shirt. I had a matching one. I wanted her to wear it and know that I was thinking about her no matter where I was.

It was a comfort--as were the many other Komen gifts that she received from family. She felt connected to other women who had also fought the battle. And she loved their "Fight like a Girl" themed items which took a positive spin on an otherwise sexist expression. For all these reasons, I've had a nice warm, fuzzy association with Komen.

So it really enraged me when I heard the news that Komen has ceased their funding of Planned Parenthood. According to the Huffington Post, "Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity's newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities."

Certainly, that explanation is a bit unclear and it's hard to believe that any decision an organization makes to distance itself from Planned Parenthood isn't politically motivated right now. As Caperton at Feministe points out,  "It’s also worth noting, of course, that Komen’s new aggressively anti-choice vice president, Karen Handel, ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 on a platform of defunding Planned Parenthood."

No matter what the reason for the defunding, the fact of the matter is that this is a huge problem which will have ramifications mostly for low income women. As Tracy Clark-Flory reported at Salon:
Regardless of whether the Komen Foundation pulled grants “because they caved to anti-choice pressure or because of the political leanings of their VP,” says activist Jessica Valenti, founder of, “the result is the same — women’s health and lives are going to suffer as a result.” That’s especially true for low-income women who are most dependent on Planned Parenthood’s services.
If all of this is news to you, you're not alone. I  can admit, that I have been woefully under informed about what Komen's actual programs were. I knew that when I bought those shirts the proceeds went to "breast cancer research" but I didn't really know what they had been funding, or at least, I'd never thought about it specifically. However, this announcement has brought to light just how many mammograms Komen has funded through Planned Parenthood's clinics--clinics which provide services to people who oftentimes would have no other access point. In fact, according to Planned Parenthood,
Over the past five years, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation funds have enabled Planned Parenthood health centers to provide nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams and referrals for more than 6,400 mammograms. These cancer detection and prevention programs saved the lives of women who often had nowhere else to turn for care.
Reading that information and knowing that Planned Parenthood will now be taking a big hit quite literally makes me want to cry. I've written before about how my own run in with a breast issue was impacted by low cost, reliable care at Planned Parenthood. As I said, when I was in my late teens through mid 20s, I regularly accessed Planned Parenthoods in Indiana (another story of disappointment!) At 22 I discovered a lump in my breast. I was petrified of the possibilities and I didn't seek medical treatment for quite some time. Finally, at my annual exam with the nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood, I felt comfortable enough to ask her about it. She checked me out and calmed me saying that it seemed to be a hormonal cyst, with the kindest words and soothing care. She referred me to the Indiana Breast Center where they confirmed with an ultrasound that it was nothing serious. It was because of accessing affordable, compassionate care that I finally confronted my biggest fears and was examined.

Thinking about other people who will face a similar situation and not be able to get the help I received breaks my heart and enrages me. And of course, when we are talking about this issue, we must be honest. It will be poor, women of color who will be most affected by this decision.

The real problem here is that Komen is pandering to right wing anti-abortion extremists who refuse to believe the undeniable fact that Planned Parenthood does much, much more than abortions. The result, without intervening funds, is that thousands of individuals will be denied breast exam services.

It is because of this that I officially turn my back on the Susan G. Komen Foundation. They are not an organization which represents my values and I will no longer support them. I will take my money and my admiration elsewhere. If you'd like to join me, please give to Planned Parenthood's emergency fund to make up this loss today.

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