Cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure confronts backlash over grant cuts

Cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure confronts backlash over grant cuts

February 3rd, 2012 by Associated Press in News

In this Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010 file photo, some of an estimated 45,000 people participate in the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure in Little Rock, Ark. The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates in 2012 - creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women. Planned Parenthood says the cutoff, primarily affecting grants for breast exams, results from Komen bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Komen says the key reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress - a probe launched by a conservative Republican who was urged to act by anti-abortion groups. (AP Photo/Brian Chilson)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

NEW YORK - Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the renowned breast-cancer charity, faced an escalating backlash Thursday over its decision to cut breast-screening grants to Planned Parenthood. Some of Komen's local affiliates are openly upset, and at least one top official has quit, reportedly in protest.

Meanwhile, Komen has been deluged with negative emails and Facebook postings, accusing it of knuckling under to pressure from anti-abortion groups, since The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that it was halting grants that Planned Parenthood affiliates used for breast exams and related services. The grants totaled $680,000 last year.

Planned Parenthood has been heartened by an outpouring of support in response to the cutoff. In addition to $400,000 in smaller donations from 6,000 people, it is receiving $250,000 from a family foundation in Dallas and a $250,000 pledge announced Thursday by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to match future donations.

In Washington, 26 U.S. senators - all Democrats except for independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont - signed a letter calling on Komen to reconsider its decision.

"It would be tragic if any woman - let alone thousands of women - lost access to these potentially lifesaving screenings because of a politically motivated attack," the senators wrote.

Komen's top leaders, in their first news conference since the controversy erupted, denied Planned Parenthood's assertion that the decision was driven by pressure from anti-abortion groups.

"We don't base our decisions on whether one side or the other will be pleased," said Komen's founder and CEO Nancy Brinker.

Komen has said the decision stemmed from newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations under investigation - affecting Planned Parenthood because of an inquiry by a Republican congressman acting with encouragement from anti-abortion activists.

Brinker said Thursday that there were additional factors, notably changes in the types of breast-health service providers it wanted to support. However, she said grants would continue this year to three of the 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates - in Denver, California's Orange County and Waco, Texas - because they served clientele with few other breast-screening options.

A source with direct knowledge of decision-making at Komen's headquarters in Dallas gave a different account, saying the grant-making criteria were adopted with the deliberate intention of targeting Planned Parenthood. The criteria's impact on Planned Parenthood, and its status as the focus of government investigations, were highlighted in a memo distributed to Komen affiliates in December.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, a driving force behind the move was Karen Handel, who was hired by Komen last year as vice president for public policy after losing a campaign for governor in Georgia in which she stressed her anti-abortion views and frequently denounced Planned Parenthood.

Brinker, in an interview with MSNBC, said Handel didn't have a significant role in the policy change.

The source also said that Mollie Williams, who had been Komen's director of community health programs, had resigned in protest over the grant cutoff.

Williams, in an email, said she could not comment on her departure for reasons of professional confidentiality, but she was clear about her views.

"I have dedicated my career to fighting for the rights of the marginalized and underserved," she wrote. "And I believe it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission."

Williams said she was saddened by the rift because she admired both Komen and Planned Parenthood.

"I am hopeful their passionate and courageous leaders, Nancy Brinker and Cecile Richards, can swiftly resolve this conflict in a manner that benefits the women they both serve."