Not So Tickled Pink
February 10, 2012
When I first heard the news that Susan G. Komen for the Cure had decided to cease funding Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening programs, my knee-jerk reaction was not anger, but to simply roll my eyes and wonder if the Komen group had hired Lowe’s public relations company.
After three days of blistering backlash in the media and every avenue the Internet has to offer, Komen has backed down — kind of. But Komen’s mangled decision will surely go down as one of the top 10 public relations fiascos of the 21st Century. And we still have almost 89 years left!
Accusations rained down upon them, especially, but not only, from the left. Whether those accusations are true or not, I think Komen’s greatest problem is it suffers from the same flaw that some other large, long-standing organizations have: the mission of the Komen foundation has become the Komen foundation itself. Komen considers itself Too Big to Fail.
Perhaps most egregious, Komen has forgotten that there is a woman attached to the breast.
I spent a significant amount of my tenure in the legislature working on issues related to breast cancer. I sponsored the bill mandating informed consent for women with breast cancer, requiring that every diagnosed woman be provided a pamphlet explaining possible treatment options. Then I sponsored the first bill in the country requiring the accreditation of mammography facilities. That bill became the model for national accreditation standards adopted by Congress a few years later.
I’m proud of those laws and think they make a real difference in women’s lives, as well as the men who love them. But I am equally, if not more, proud of our outreach efforts to convince women to get breast exams and mammograms (and, by the way, to urge men to have prostate exams). At that time, even many well-heeled women with private insurance were reluctant to have a mammogram, apparently viewing it as the first step on the road to mastectomy. The mammography rates for lower income women were much worse and abysmal for those with no Medicaid. For the latter group, breast exam rates were equally bad.
Early detection saves lives, and so we persevered, and truly made great strides in convincing women of the value of regular breast exams and mammography.
But what do you do when you have no insurance and few medical facilities will accept you and you still want a breast exam? (Not every breast care facility necessarily accepts Medicaid.) You turn to a local area clinic, and for many women that is a Planned Parenthood facility.
According to the Komen people (who have come up with at least two other unrelated rationales for their actions), they had no choice but to pull breast-screening funding from Planned Parenthood because Komen changed its internal rules to say that any organization being investigated by any federal, state or local elected official could not receive Komen grants. Conveniently, one member of Congress was doing just that on his suspicion that federal funds for non-abortion services for Planned Parenthood were, in fact, being used for their abortion services.
No surprise there. Planned Parenthood is the national poster child for people who oppose abortion. And when isn’t some elected official somewhere investigating something, with or without valid proof that his or her suspicions might be viable?
The great majority of abortions occur in women under 30. Indeed, any age-related statistics generally only cover women who are 15-44. One organization did estimate that women over 40 had 2 percent of all abortions.
There’s a reason for that. Women over 40 just don’t have many eggs left. Most are at least pre-menopausal and by 45-50 are probably a lot farther along than that. But it is at age 40 that the American Cancer Society recommends women begin regular breast cancer screening.
So perhaps the greatest irony of this whole fiasco is that the Komen foundation is punishing women who cannot even become pregnant anymore, but who do need regular breast screening, in order to punish Planned Parenthood for providing abortions to women generally under 30.
In Michigan, Planned Parenthood does more than 26,000 breast exams a year, with most patients coming from under-served and rural communities. Where will those 26,000 women go now? Komen says not to worry, that it will distribute the former Planned Parenthood funds elsewhere. But how many other entities are there, ready to go, with the established, known statewide networks that Planned Parenthood does?
In a last-minute attempt to re-explain themselves, apparently provided by the crisis management public relations company they hired, Komen people said the real reason for the Planned Parenthood decision had to do with their new emphasis on metrics (whatever that is), that we all have to understand that they owe their board members metrics. Maybe. But the first people they owe are the women they serve.
Komen also says, now, that its problem is that Planned Parenthood facilities don’t offer mammograms and Komen, now, only wants to fund facilities that offer them. Problem is, many, if not most, mammography facilities don’t do breast exams — and surely none offers screening for cervical cancer. So women who go to Planned Parenthood for both breast and cervical screening would have to go to at least two different places.
To their credit, the Komen people claim to have revised their “under investigation” language to include that there must be actual proof of wrongdoing. What a concept. In addition, they have assured their supporters (or used-to-be-supporters) that the current, in-progress Planned Parenthood grants will continue. But those were never at risk. Future grants to Planned Parenthood are still in question.
I’m sure that the daggers are out in the form of pens waiting to comment on this article. That’s because in addition to being known for my work on breast cancer, I was also one of the House leaders on preserving reproductive rights for women. So it will undoubtedly be suggested that my concerns about losing breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics is really a ruse, just Maxine Berman trying to protect and promote abortions. I can’t stop those accusations, so I’m not even going to try.
But here’s the thing. A woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy. Nobody chooses to have breast cancer, and it strikes women of every income level and race.
Breast cancer doesn’t care who’s got it. Neither should the Susan G. Komen people care who’s providing quality exams to catch it early, even if those facilities provide other, still-legal medical services.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure: It’s not about you. It’s about us.