What Happened at Komen: Weak Leadership Makes A Weak Retreat

BlogHer Original Post

Apparently bowing to lefty pressure, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation leadership today led a cowardly retreat in a statement amending its decision to "cut off hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, mainly for breast exams" to Planned Parenthood, which was reported by the Associated Press Tuesday.

A lot of hubub erupted over only roughly $600,000.

According to the organization, in the last five years, grants from Susan G. Komen directly supported 170,000 screenings, comprising about 4 percent of the total exams performed at Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide.

Small potatoes.

Especially when you consider the women's health services giant gets $330 million annually from the federal government for preventative-health services, including contraception and cancer screenings.

Planned Parenthood is strictly forbidden to use federal dollars for abortions.

Not only did Komen's initial decision make Planned Parenthood look like a victim, the crisis served to remind the public that the non-profit actually does take donations and saw an uptick in support.

Good. People should support causes they believe in.

So, why make a mountain out of a $600,000 molehill?

Initial spin of not supporting organizations currently under investigation sounded like weak sauce from the start, especially when Komen admitted none of its other beneficiaries had been cut off, including Penn State.

Since the relationship formed in 2005, public funding by Komen of Planned Parenthood breast screenings has been a well-known thorn in the side of conservatives and its donors. It's the reason I've never supported Komen.

Nancy Brinker Susan G Komen
Nancy Brinker, Chairwoman, Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (Image: © The Palm Beach Post/ZUMA Press)

Insiders told the Atlantic that the new policy was created specifically to defund Planned Parenthood of the one screening it preaches endlessly as a way to eradicate breast cancer.

If these claims were true -- why the need for trickery? The pro-life philosophical dots connect easily throughout Komen's organization.

Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of the Komen Foundation, served as a political appointee of the George W. Bush Administration, and the new Vice President Karen Handel, who wrote in her campaign blog when running for governor of Georgia that she "do[es] not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."

So with influential conservatives in powerful positions, would Komen opposing Planned Parenthood really surprise many?

Probably not.

Doesn't bother me. It's their organization; support or don't support whomever and whatever you want. Does Catholic Charities apologize for its religion-based policies?

What doesn't ring true is the about-face on donors over this issue twice in a week. Who is Komen now?

According to this Atlantic story, much inside pressure led to the decision: "As we looked at the ramifications of ceasing all funding, we felt it would be worse from a practical standpoint, from a public-relations standpoint, and from a mission standpoint. The mission standpoint is, 'How could we abandon our commitment to the screening work done by Planned Parenthood?'"

Since abortions are an ever-hot topic, Komen couldn't just dip a toe; they could either tell the pushy politicos to pound sand by standing firm with Planned Parenthood or boldly take a decisive position to part ways based on deep convictions letting the chips fall where they may with supporters.

The final decision fell somewhere between leading me to think their hearts weren't in it as much as their backbones simply caved.

Then, they caved in the opposite direction, at least outwardly. The Washington Post questioned whether the release really was a reversal after talking to a Komen board member this morning:

I asked Komen board member John Raffaelli to respond to those who are now saying that the announcement doesn't necessarily constitute a reversal until Planned Parenthood actually sees more funding. He insisted it would be unfair to expect the group to commit to future grants.

"It would be highly unfair to ask us to commit to any organization that doesn't go through a grant process that shows that the money we raise is used to carry out our mission," Raffaelli told me.

"We're a humaniatrian organization. We have a mission. Tell me you can help carry out our mission and we will sit down at the table."

Pushed on whether this means the new announcement wasn't really a reversal, Raffaelli pushed back, arguing that Komen, in response to all the criticism, had removed politics from the grant-making process. “Is it really unclear that we're changing the policy to address criticism?” he said.

Whether or not today’s change can be considered a reversal, it can definitely be considered a capitulation.

It didn't have to work out this way. It really comes down to leadership and values: Planned Parenthood would not waver in its mission. Komen was clearly the weak link. They've allowed this situation to label them as wishy-washy with donor dollars -– a poor sign for supporters who demand increasing transparency.

Bottom line: Komen lost. It sacrificed its stellar brand of saving lives by investing $1.9 billion in research and prevention of breast cancer, muddled its core values with politics, and got painted as mindless ideologues.

As one who's been in the hot kitchen of politics, I can tell you it's not for everyone. Komen should stick with what it knows and does best and either hire the right people for such enormous battles or keep a barf bag handy.

Watching the making of sausage requires a cast-iron stomach.

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