Politics & Policy

The Komen Conflagration

As “women’s health” advocates shriek about Komen, their radical slip shows.

Much of the American media have been overtaken by a cancerous rhetoric in recent days: It has been suggested that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the breast-cancer charity, should be no more. In the eyes of many, such as National Organization for Women president, Terry O’Neill, Komen has gone from being a women’s health charity to becoming “anti-woman.” O’Neill predicted to MSNBC host Ed Schulz that, within five years or so, Komen will cease to exist. And good riddance!

Komen — which had literally turned the White House pink for breast-cancer awareness, and had pink products all over the Macy’s makeup counter this Christmas — has been an overwhelming presence in American culture. It is the force behind the walks for breast-cancer education, fundraising, and memorializing. Its campaigns are everywhere. And just yesterday, it seems, it was regarded a good sister to the liberal-feminist sisterhood, endorsed by the likes of O’Neill and the political activists who keep the Democratic party singing the abortion industry’s tune. That, however, was until Komen crossed Planned Parenthood. 

Komen announced that it would halt grants to Planned Parenthood, and was immediately accused of having surrendered to misogynistic pro-lifers. It is true that Komen has long been subject to pro-life boycott efforts as a result of its relationship with Planned Parenthood. My sense was that this was, for a long time, a disorganized, scattered campaign (it not quite being the Planned Parenthood machine). But in the last year, the shield that had long protected Planned Parenthood cracked a bit, precipitating a House vote last year to cut off federal funds for the first time. 

Recently, it’s become harder to ignore the fact that Planned Parenthood is not a benign friend to women, but an institution with a poisonous, eugenic past and a distressing present. When young Lila Rose’s undercover videos flooded the web in February 2011, it raised questions about what was, at best, a failure to report criminal activity, and at worst a conspiracy to provide a “safe haven sex traffickers.” And long before her, Phill Kline, a prosecutor in Kansas, brought charges against the organization that should have set off all kinds of child-endangerment alarms. Instead, he unleashed on himself an unmistakable campaign of personal-destruction that continues to this day. (Perhaps Komen can relate a little to Kline right now?) 

Even Slate — hardly a conservative or pro-life ally — admits that critics of Planned Parenthood have raised “some legitimate concerns”:

Planned Parenthood offices in California, New Jersey, New York, and Washington state have at various times been audited by state and federal authorizes and discovered to have been overbilling state agencies and committing other improper billing practices. Further, Planned Parenthood has a record of not reporting instances of sexual abuse — and I’m not talking about 16-year-old girls who come in with their 19-year-old boyfriends. The AUL report documents a case in which a 13-year-old girl was raped by an older foster brother and was impregnated — twice. Planned Parenthood is required, if it wants to receive federal funds, to comply with mandatory reporting laws.

It didn’t. 

Facts such as these expose the falsity of the simplistic women-vs.-anti-women framing of the Komen news, and anything to do with Planned Parenthood. Charmaine Yoest, whose Americans United for Life published the aforementioned reports, got personally involved with Komen when she found herself suffering from breast cancer. As a pro-life activist, she was discomfited by Komen’s close relationship with Planned Parenthood. There are undoubtedly many more women who would be only too happy to get involved with the group were it not for its unfortunate involvement.

Komen has been outgunned in the PR wars in recent days, but its decision (for which it has now apologized in a desperate attempt to make the public shakedown stop — perhaps a white flag is a more appropriate emblem than a pink ribbon) never deserved the hellish backlash that Planned Parenthood and its defenders unleashed on it. A fair-minded observer could reasonably view Komen’s decision as inevitable: In a day when so many of us have such unprecedented access to a vast array of information resources, it was increasingly hard for Komen to overlook the fact that Planned Parenthood is not exactly a mecca for mammograms – Planned Parenthood doesn’t do them and they don’t even have the facilities to do them. Komen’s mission to end breast cancer was thus not being directly served by Planned Parenthood, which was at best a middleman in that fight. And even with its regrettable backpedaling, Komen’s reservations about working with the organization have struck a blow to the conventional spin that women’s health and pro-abortion views are inextricably linked.

Many pro-life activists, while initially encouraged, were not deluded into thinking that they’ve would have changed the world of medicine or philanthropy if Komen had stuck with its decision to move its dollars elsewhere. But they want more research into any medical link between abortion or contraceptive pills and breast cancer and, while Komen might logically support such research, that is not likely to happen while Komen remains so close to Planned Parenthood.

The real pity of commentators looking for some kind of scandal in Komen’s even daring to make a business decision to review its Planned Parenthood grants is that there is actually a fair, non-partisan way to analyze Komen’s initial decision. That Slate item demonstrates this. Outrage, meanwhile, at both the decision and any suggestion that there are people in Komen who might oppose abortion betrays a real ideological isolation. It so happens that pro-life Republican women get breast cancer too, and their personal combat with death isn’t likely to convert them to embracing an ideology that is disturbingly comfortable with erring on the side of death.

Unlike Terry O’Neill and her friends on MSNBC, I make no predictions about Komen’s future. But it’s safe to say that the discerning news consumer might just be a little more skeptical about “women’s health” rhetoric, in the light of some of the hysterics with which Komen’s former political and media sisters turned on the organization. Actual women’s health deserves better — individual human lives deserve better — than ideological purity tests and search-and-destroy missions.  

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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