By now, chances are you've seen the news that the Susan G. Komen Foundation defunded its support of Planned Parenthood, which it had established in 2005. Pressure for the foundation to stop the support began almost immediately, and the national Susan G. Komen board resisted this pressure until yesterday. I spoke with Gina Popovic, Executive Vice President of the Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, who stressed that Komen is not the bad actor in all of this, the anti-choice activists are.
"We don't want a pink on pink war," said Ms. Popovic.
One of the first thoughts to cross my mind when I read the headline on the Washington Post about Komen's PP defunding was the completely inaccurate statement that Senator John Kyl made last April:
Everybody goes to clinics, to hospitals, to doctors, and so on. Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don't have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that's well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.
In greater context, Planned Parenthood has been in the crosshairs of anti-choice activists for many years now. They've survived the threat of a federal ban on funding, even when they perform annual exam services and do preventive care. They dodged an attempt last year on the part of a few Republican-led state legislatures to take away their Medicare funding because the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services itself stepped in and told those states they would lose all of their Medicare funding if they tried to strip abortion providers like Planned Parenthood of their support.
Since the 2012 midterm elections, all manner of anti-choice bills have wended their ways through state chambers, many getting signed into law. Extended waiting periods to terminate a pregnancy are some of the newer ways to push back the window of choice for women; if a state has legalized a cutoff of 20 weeks to receive an abortion, then insisting on a 14-day waiting period essentially shortens that cutoff to 18 weeks. Bans on later-term abortions, insisting that clients watch ultrasound of their embryos, stricter provisions on informing whoever is assumed to have paternity, or one's own parents have all had a floor debate in the states.
Even beyond the legislative measures, anti-abortion rhetoric has notched up during the GOP primary season in advance of this summer's general election, as Republican candidates jockeyed for attention from the electorate. Herman Cain insisted he was against abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Rick Santorum suggested rape victims should "make the best out of a bad situation" and take their pregnancies to term. Rick Perry, formerly softer on the issue of abortion, made the case that he had gone through a "transformation" and now only supported making all abortion illegal, no matter the circumstances. Across the country, the pressure is relentless to find new, inventive, and clever ways to shut down a woman's right to reproductive choice.
The reporting on the anti-abortion fervor on the Susan G. Komen national board threw out large dollar figures that now won't be flowing to Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country. Looking at the numbers for my local PPGWNI organization humanizes the stakes for me: 300 women who came in to the ten Planned Parenthood offices in eastern Washington and Idaho last year were referred to specialists for advanced breast health care, paid for by the Komen funds. Since 2008 PPGWNI received just under $80,000 from Komen. The money they took in was paid out in nurses' salaries and in specialists' fees when patients were referred for care. And without this money, some women will be turned away. The stakes for women's health could not be higher—already there are known disparities in health care quality and outcomes for poorer women and women who are underinsured or uninsured.
Breast cancer remains the second most common cancer among women in the United States, and socioeconomic status has been shown to be a significant factor in the stage at which breast cancer is diagnosed, as well as mortality.
Karl Eastlund, President and CEO of PPGWNI, said, "This is really unfortunate for women. There's a sad reality here."
Indeed, when one pulls back from the abstract anti-choice messaging about ending abortion in the United States, we see that we're also taking away women's access to health care. And not just women, but some of the most vulnerable women who utilize low-cost and free clinics for their preventative and urgent care, for family planning, and for treatment. Perhaps there's a difference then, between "women's health" and "feminist health." While the Susan G. Komen Foundation continues to tout its emphasis on early screening and detection, it won't be supporting such activities if they occur at clinics that someone on Capitol Hill has decided to investigate.
In response, PPGWNI has established the Emergency Breast Health Fund, and Mr. Eastlund reports that just this morning donors are walking into his office with checks of support. Certainly Komen has seen a wave of anger on its Facebook and Twitter pages, with many women declaring they will no longer participate in their fundraising. Many of Komen's local boards across the country are also disappointed and dismayed, as they received news of the national Komen group's new rule making in the same email that was sent to Planned Parenthood affiliates. If this truly is a case where a vocal few have overruled a majority, more changes may be afoot at the smaller local Komen boards. But the national Komen board is committed to its shift, and once again, Planned Parenthood will have to respond to what has become a relentless push by anti-abortion activists, who seem all too willing to make women's access to health services a casualty in their war on reproductive rights.
To get more involved with Planned Parenthood's mission, check out their website.
This article is cross-posted at Trans/plant/portation.