In a stunning reversal on an equally stunning mistake, Susan G. Komen For the Cure has apologized and restored funding to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and screenings. Why am I not thrilled? Maybe because despite the evidence of the absolutely mind-boggling power of social media, this whole episode is symptomatic of a much larger societal ill. And I have many questions, since I by no means think the matter is settled. There is fall-out with which to contend.
1. How will pro-lifers react? According to the Nancy Brinker, donations to Komen in the last two days increased 100%. It’s reasonable to assume the increase was, in large part, a result of pro-life people pleased with their decision to revoke PP funds. What will happen to these donations, now? Will the donors ask that their money be returned? Will they have to suck it up and accept that a donation made SOLELY BECAUSE they wanted to send the message they opposed legal abortion was made in vain? Will there be even more outrage now on the part of the pro-life movement? And will it be taken out on Komen? This can only hurt Komen and the work they do.
2. How will pro-choice people react? As written in this article in Salon, Planned Parenthood is clearly more adept and practiced at handling controversy and criticism than Komen. Planned Parenthood and its supporters need to be wary, though, of declaring victory. That this whole story even happened is cause for deep concern among those who support women’s health and reproductive choice. According to Senator Barbara Boxer (speaking to Andrea Mitchell this afternoon,) on this very day members of Congress are virtually coming to blows on the issue of birth control. Birth control, people. Let’s not get smug.
3. Can Komen recover? General consensus is yes. But Komen for the Cure has been politicized, as many charities have. Before this, it was possible for people to support Komen whether or not they supported legalized abortion. Everyone wants cancer eradicated. Now, though, supporting Komen might be harder for pro-life AND pro-choice people.
4. What is really going on here? Truth be told, according to PP, about 170,000 of the more than 4 million breast exams they’ve provided over the last five years were funded by Komen’s grant. That’s around 4%. Interestingly, abortion makes up only about 3% of the services Planned Parenthood provides. I am in NO WAY minimizing the importance of even one of those lives being saved through the breast exam, nor am I minimizing the heartbreak involved in even one abortion performed. Yet, the nastiness of this controversy may have been avoided (though probably not…) had everyone paused, assessed, and been forthright.
For example, imagine if the powers that be at Komen came right out and said, “We are free to fund whomever we choose, and we choose not to fund organizations that perform legal abortions.” Say what it is and who they are. And let the chips fall where they may. I might no longer donate to them, but I might because I appreciate straight talk and sincerity. In researching, I might decide the position is too abhorrent to me, or I might decide that the good they do outweighs this issue given the relatively small amount of money in the grant.
Imagine if Planned Parenthood reacted by saying, “We are deeply saddened by this, but truthfully, Komen only funded 4% of the breast exams we performed anyway. With your support, we can make up the difference and emerge stronger than ever.” I’m sure the outpouring of support would have been significant.
5. Is this about breast cancer or abortion? If it is about breast cancer, Komen should never have pulled their funding. If it is about abortion, Komen should not have restored the funding. Here’s what I fear. I fear this entire episode had less to do with breast cancer screening OR abortion. I fear it is, more than anything, reflective of how anti-community we have become.
Here’s what I mean by that. Years ago, I joined a gym. When I joined, childcare was included in the membership. Within a year, the gym changed its policy and began charging extra for childcare. I protested, and was told, “People who didn’t use it complained they shouldn’t have to pay for it. Not everyone uses the childcare, so it’s not fair to charge them for it.” I countered by saying, “I don’t use the men’s bathrooms, or touch any free weight over 15 pounds, but I understand my dues fund parts of the club I don’t use, or even like. I’m okay with that because it contributes to the upkeep of the place as a WHOLE.”
Superimpose that approach onto politics. The mentality exists wherein people cannot abide even one penny of their money being used for something they oppose. In the last few days, I read over and over people arguing that if they give to Komen, they want to be damn sure the money won’t be going to fund that horrible Planned Parenthood organization. They slaughter babies, you know. By the same token, I heard people swear they wouldn’t give a dime to Komen now that they’ve made this anti-choice decision. I was one of them. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinions and are free to donate their money however they want. But how I wish we could step back and take a breath.
Take a breath and accept the fact that some of your money (taxes and donations) will be spent in ways you don’t like. Ways you find abhorrent. I understand why people don’t want their money helping to fund facilities that perform abortions. I respect their feelings and convictions. I hope that respect is reciprocated when I say I don’t want my money helping to fund the death penalty, or organizations that discriminate against homosexuals. Regardless, in the emotional whiplash of the last week, I think we could all do with a larger dose of acceptance. Of making peace with imperfection and moving on.
I won’t rule out donating to Komen in the future, and as I said before – I may have even if they hadn’t reversed this decision. What I’d love to see (and doubt I ever will) is a pro-life person donating to Planned Parenthood. You know – in support of the 97% of medical services they provide in underserved communities that AREN’T abortion-related.
(I know I may live in a dream world, but it’s nice here.)