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Komen breast cancer charity severs ties with Planned Parenthood

Susan G. Komen for the Cure says it will stop funding Planned Parenthood centers. Many suspect the move is a result of political pressure by antiabortion activists.

February 01, 2012|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • An estimated 45,000 people participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Little Rock, Ark. The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates in 2012 - creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women.
An estimated 45,000 people participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the… (Brian Chilson / AP Photo )

In what looks to be a break between two organizations dedicated to women's health, a national breast cancer awareness group said it would stop providing funds to Planned Parenthood centers for breast cancer examinations and other breast health services.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leader in fundraising for breast cancer research and famous worldwide for its iconic pink ribbon, said Tuesday that it was halting all partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates because of recently adopted criteria that forbid it from funding any organization under government investigation.

In September, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) launched an inquiry to determine whether Planned Parenthood uses public money to fund abortions. Planned Parenthood receives federal money but cannot use it to provide abortions.

Komen has a long history of providing funding to various Planned Parenthood affiliates for such services as manual breast exams and referrals for mammograms and biopsies to check suspicious lumps for cancer. Although that money is not used for abortions, the Komen Foundation may have yielded to demands from antiabortion groups to sever its ties to Planned Parenthood.

"We had the sense this was coming and that they were under pressure," said Sue Dunlap, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. "I find this really disappointing. I think when women's health is more of a political conversation than a conversation about healthcare and taking care of people, then we've gone too far."

Officials for Planned Parenthood Federation of America said they learned of Komen's new stance on funding late last year and asked the Komen board of directors for a meeting to resolve any issues or questions related to funding. The meeting did not take place, said Cecile Richards, the federation's president.

"We are alarmed and saddened that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation appears to have succumbed to political pressure," Richards said in a statement. "Our greatest desire is for Komen to reconsider this policy and recommit to the partnership on which so many women count."

Over the last five years, Planned Parenthood has provided about 4 million breast exams and referrals for 70,000 mammograms nationwide. Funding from Komen covers about 170,000 of the breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals, Richards said. Although mammograms and biopsies are referred out, Planned Parenthood doctors manage their patients' cases.

Officials from the Komen Foundation could not be reached for comment. But in an earlier interview with the Associated Press, Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said that the decision was based solely on the Stearns investigation and did not imply wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.

"We want to maintain a positive relationship with them," Aun told the Associated Press. "We're not making any judgment."

In Orange County, the loss of Komen grants will end programs to reach out to special groups in need of breast cancer education, said Stephanie Kight, senior vice president of the Planned Parenthood affiliate for Orange and San Bernardino counties.

One Komen grant funded outreach to Vietnamese women in which Planned Parenthood workers would provide breast health education in hair and nail salons and other gathering places for Vietnamese women. Another allowed the chapter to fund referrals for biopsies for women who had suspicious lumps discovered during breast exams at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

The $120,000 annual grants the affiliate received from Komen made up half of its yearly budget for breast health care, Kight said.

"We've been long-time partners with Komen in taking care of women's breast health," said Kight, who added that her affiliate had not yet been informed of Komen's decision to halt Planned Parenthood funding. "If this decision was brought on because of political pressure, that would be really disappointing."

Antiabortion groups lauded the decision and described it as the result of years of lobbying from Americans who oppose abortion.

"I know that hundreds, even thousands, of people reached out to Komen to request they stop giving to Planned Parenthood. That was constant over the years," said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. "Pro-life people object because Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest abortion chain. Every dollar they take in facilitates their operations."

Planned Parenthood has become the central target of antiabortion groups, Scheidler added. Last year, the organization, which serves about 3 million people a year for reproductive healthcare and other primary-care services, was the focus of a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) that would have halted its federal funding. About one-third of Planned Parenthood's $1.1-billion national budget comes from the federal government.

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