Politics Charged In Plan To Pull Planned Parenthood Funding

February 1, 2012       Mark Hrywna      

Supporters of Planned Parenthood of America are painting the decision to cut grant funding to 16 of its affiliates by the nation’s most prominent breast cancer charity as a political one, influenced by the hiring last year of a former gubernatorial candidate who ran with being anti-abortion as a key issue.

Under Susan G. Komen For the Cure’s new eligibility criteria, no grants are allowed to organizations under investigation. U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) initiated an inquiry into Planned Parenthood of America (PPFA) to determine if federal funds are used for abortions, which the organization denies. Planned Parenthood also alleges the investigation is political in nature.

The new policy went into effect Jan. 1 and Planned Parenthood was notified of the pending change on Dec. 1, after which President & CEO Cecile Richards requested a meeting with Komen’s board and management. Amanda Harrington, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of America, said those requests were denied.

“We were really surprised by this,” said Harrington during a telephone interview this afternoon with The NonProfit Times.

Anti-abortion groups have commended Komen for the move while others criticized the breast cancer group for succumbing to political pressure and politicizing the issue of breast cancer. Some point to Karen Handel, who was appointed senior vice president of advocacy in April 2011, after serving as a consultant since January 2011, responsible for Komen’s federal and state advocacy efforts. The former Secretary of State for Georgia, Handel ran for governor in 2010 as a staunch anti-abortion candidate.

The Komen funding typically totaled between $500,000 and $700,000 annually for 19 programs at 16 of Planned Parenthood’s 84 affiliates nationwide. The partnership had been in existence since 2005. Harrington said they raised almost all of that funding, garnering $400,000 from 6,000 donors in 24 hours via the I Stand With Planned Parenthood website.

“For years, opponents of women’s health have waged a very aggressive campaign against Komen,” said Harrington, adding that the organization believes it continues to meet Komen’s eligibility criteria.

Anti-choice groups in America have repeatedly threatened Susan G. Komen for the Cure for its partnership with Planned Parenthood to provide cancer screenings. Since then, Planned Parenthood health centers with Komen program funding have provided nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams of the more than four million clinical breast exams performed nationwide at Planned Parenthood health centers, as well as more than 6,400 mammogram referrals out of 70,000 mammogram referrals.

Komen for the Cure did not respond to inquiries for comment. Komen’s Twitter feed made no mention of the policy and its Facebook page hadn’t been updated since Monday, until a post late this morning about the controversy.

“While it is regrettable when changes in priorities and policies affect any of our grantees, such as a longstanding partner like Planned Parenthood, we must continue to evolve to best meet the needs of the women we serve and most fully advance our mission,” according to the post. “Grant making decisions are not about politics – our priority is and always will be the women we service. Making this issue political or leveraging it for fundraising purposes would be a disservice to women.”

More than 4,200 comments were posted in response within six hours of the posting, many slamming Komen for its decision with some support for the move.

As recently as June 2011, at least one Komen affiliate was compelled to explain the partnership with Planned Parenthood. In a statement posted on its website, Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Inland Empire said each of the more than 120 affiliates in the United States “is responsible for assessing its community and determining local breast health needs.

“Decisions to fund Planned Parenthood programs are based on a thorough assessment of breast health needs and resources in the communities served by our affiliates.

“Affiliate funding is reviewed twice-yearly to ensure it’s being used only for breast health services, the statement said, and if reviews showed the funds being used for any other purpose, they would be withdrawn,” emphasizing that Komen does not fund abortions.

Nancy Healey, executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Central and South Jersey, wrote in an email to supporters Tuesday morning that the decision by national headquarters won’t affect its programs.

Planned Parenthood is not a current grantee of the affiliate, so no funding for services has been halted in central and south Jersey, she said. “We appreciate the outpouring of concern from our constituents. This resolution was made on a national level and we are not a part of these overarching decisions,” Healey wrote.

Some Komen affiliates around the nation, either through posts on their Facebook page or emails, indicated they would honor requests through the next grant cycle, or hoped for a swift resolution to the investigation issue. The Connecticut affiliate of Komen has seen a barrage of comments on its Facebook page from people disappointed in the decision by the Dallas headquarters.

“It’s very sad that in response to mounting pressure from a vocal few that Komen and its leaders have made the decision to accommodate these extreme voices, rather than continue a partnership that does benefit women’s health,” Harrington said.

With a lead gift of $250,000 from Amy and Lee Fikes’ foundation, Planned Parenthood has established a Breast Health Emergency Fund. It aims to provide immediate funding to ensure that its health centers continue to provide breast cancer screenings and care that had previously been supported by Komen dollars.

While Komen might be more well-known because of its pink ribbons, Planned Parenthood of America is the larger charity. In 2010, Planned Parenthood headquarters and affiliates estimated total revenue of $1.032 billion, with about $405 million in government revenue, $402 million in program revenue and $221 million in public support.

Based in Dallas, Texas, Komen for the Cure and its affiliates reported total revenue of nearly $312 million, about $241 million of which came in the form of public support, and another $35 million in other revenue.

Harrington pointed to several examples around the country of where Komen funding to Planned Parenthood addresses women’s health issues. Komen’s Denver affiliate had 19 percent of its total cancers detected from patients treated by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which serves almost 1,000 women with clinical breast exams, she said. One in five women has turned to Planned Parenthood at some point in their life for healthcare. Nationwide, Planned Parenthood’s health centers have performed 750,000 breast cancer screenings.

Each year, Planned Parenthood affiliates provide family planning and contraception to 2.2 million patients, 750,000 breast exams, more than 1.1 million pregnancy tests, almost 1.5 million emergency contraception kits and more than four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections. Harrington said abortion care accounted for about 3 percent of services in 2010, or about 330,000 abortion procedures.