Komen, Planned Parenthood furor can help donors rethink criteria for giving

Feb 10 2012 - 4:29pm

Too bad the brief but seismic split between Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood didn't explode in time for the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

After all, the showdown wasn't about what's happening with women's breasts but about what's happening in their wombs and who gets to decide that.

It's been 39 years since the Supreme Court ruled that states can't ban abortion during all nine months of a pregnancy. Contrary to common perception, Roe allowed restrictions during the third trimester. There's no such thing as "abortion on demand."

What's even less recognized is that the court threw out the trimester test not quite 20 years ago. Planned Parenthood v. Casey held that regulations were allowed as long as they weren't an "undue burden" on a woman's fundamental right to decide for herself whether to have an abortion.

But the episode that started last week and extended into this one wasn't about legal nuances. It wasn't even about whether abortion is a terrible thing (it is) or how to make it less prevalent (something even choice supporters want).

It was about money and perception and the power to make people choose your side in an emotional public debate.

Critics of the movement Nancy Brinker started building in 1982 after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer see the ubiquitous pink ribbon marketing as emblematic of a ravenous corporate beast perpetuating itself.

But anybody who's joined the thousands upon thousands of runners and walkers who show up at races because they lost someone dear to breast cancer or survived the fiend themselves can tell why they're there: For hope, the hope that in numbers lies the momentum to find a cure.

And most Planned Parenthood donors aren't endorsing abortion but supporting the group's work in screening women and men for diseases, providing contraception, and underwriting mammograms and other tests.

In the local trenches, where people trust one another, Komen and Planned Parenthood have been able to work together to help women get health services they need without the hurdles of ideological baggage.

But at the national level, political muscle is trying to win a zero-sum game.

Whatever Komen's official denials, it looked for all the world as if the organization decided to stop funding grantees that are under investigation as a way to sever ties with Planned Parenthood, which is the target of a Republican congressman. Anti-abortion groups that have long tried to cut taxpayer subsidies to Planned Parenthood pushed Komen to end its affiliation.

Komen leaders apparently didn't anticipate the swift ferocity with which Planned Parenthood responded, but why not?

Brinker might be tight with former President George W. Bush, but Planned Parenthood is led by the late Gov. Ann Richards' daughter, and Cecile Richards cut her political teeth working to get Sarah Weddington elected to the Texas Legislature. That election took place less than a month after Weddington had argued Roe v. Wade to the U.S. Supreme Court for the second time.

If anti-abortion forces bullied Komen into its grant-policy change, then Planned Parenthood bullied back so much better.

Online writer Will Wilkinson suggested the furor "is going to work out well for both" organizations by riling their donors into opening their pocketbooks. (See bigthink.com/ideas/42273)

Planned Parenthood almost certainly will take in much more than the $680,000 it's been receiving from Komen for breast-cancer screening referrals. The financial fallout for Komen could be more complicated.

I wonder what happens now to Komen's slew of partnerships with entities from NASCAR to Ford Motor Co. to the U.S. bobsled team. What about events like Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer, Major League Baseball's Mother's Day celebration featuring pink Louisville Sluggers? Will buying a special pink package of Mrs Baird's bread now constitute a political statement?

This episode will change almost no one's mind about abortion. But maybe rethinking support for these charities is a useful exercise.

Samantha King, a professor whose book "Pink Ribbons, Inc." is the basis of a new documentary, argues philanthropy is political. "Like public funds raised through taxation, decisions about how to spend money generated through charitable giving are controversial and subject to partisanship," she wrote on cnn.com. (See bit.ly/zIdfiC)

Those who'd rather fight disease than culture wars should make sure they know where their money is going.

Linda P. Campbell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to her at 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via email at lcampbell@star-telegram.com.

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