In the wake of the Susan G. Komen Foundation's change-of-heart regarding funding Planned Parenthood's breast cancer-prevention measures, the Komen foundation finds itself reeling from a public relations disaster that may have left it irrevocably harmed. A Komen affiliate in Colorado told the Washington Post, "I felt like we were eaten alive. We had no advance warning.. . . We were sent into battle without armor."
Komen, the country's leading breast cancer charity, had decided in December to cease awarding Planned Parenthood grants (they gave the group $680,000 in 2011; $580,000 in 2010), claiming that a House investigation into Planned Parenthood—an investigation launched by a pro-life Republican—prevented it from continuing support. This week, the AP reported the defunding, which Planned Parenthood and Komen critics called a move influenced by pro-life organizations and Komen employees, such as senior VP Karen Handle, whose failed Georgia gubernatorial bid was pro-life and vehemently anti-Planned Parenthood.
Thanks to a surge from supporters, Planned Parenthood noted yesterday that it received $3 million in online donations since Tuesday, while Komen's top officials hurried to limit the damage to its brand. Komen Founder Nancy Brinker released a statement yesterday saying, "We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities."
Yet the other reason Komen had claimed forced them to stop funding Planned Parenthood—that Komen wanted to fund direct providers of mammograms (PP refers women to providers)—the WaPo reports, "Numerous Planned Parenthood affiliates said they had been explicitly told they were not eligible to apply for funding because of the investigation, with no mention made of the mammogram-
While Komen says it will now fund Planned Parenthood again, some PP affiliates have already missed the grant cycle, since they were operating under the belief that they would not be eligible. And other Komen affiliates are still upset with being open targets. Laura Farmer Sherman, executive director of the San Diego Komen affiliate, "Honestly, we have been turned into a political association without any political skills. There was not a crisis-management plan. I think they were completely caught off guard." Farmer Sherman's affiliate lost a $50,000 corporate sponsorship for a Race for the Cure, and while she is meeting with some partners, "There are some relationships that are, perhaps, irrevocably damaged."
Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecil Richards said, "I think there’s really been a chord struck over this issue, this issue of political organizations who are trying to politicize women’s reproductive health. This kind of political bullying — I think folks are just saying, ‘Enough.’" But a Komen board member, John Raffaelli, said, "Is it possible for a woman’s health organization to stay out of the abortion issue and help all women? I don’t know the answer to that yet. What we were doing before was angering the right-to-life crowd. Then, with our decision in December, we upset the pro-choice crowd. And now we’re going to make the right-to-life crowd mad all over again. How do we stop doing that?"
You can read the documents that Komen was using to help its affiliates spin the defunding situation. And now, we imagine women are more likely to look at Komen more skeptically—pink Komen-cobranded handguns, really?