Susan G. Komen Foundation fallout lingers

Susan G. Komen Foundation fallout lingers

April 23rd, 2012 in Opinion Times

Susan G. Komen Foundation officials no doubt hoped that the furor caused early this year by the organization's decision -- later rescinded -- to cut funds for breast-cancer screenings by Planned Parenthood affiliates would have a short shelf-life and little impact on local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure events. It was a forlorn hope. Though it is still early in the run-walk season, it already is apparent that much of the animus created by the January decision remains, and that it will have a deleterious impact on the nation's largest breast-cancer charity.

An Associated Press survey strongly suggests that is the case. Only nine race have been held since the Planned Parenthood controversy -- most take place late spring through fall -- but a trend is quickly emerging. It is one of decline.

The survey shows that the overall number of participants and amount of funds raised in local events are down, though a couple of the races matched or exceeded past totals. Still, what emerges from the survey and other anecdotal evidence from communities where the Komen Race has had a long-standing presence is continued support for the cause -- finding a cure for breast cancer -- but a significant drop in trust of the organization. Area residents will learn if that will occur here in the fall, when local Komen race sponsors report on participation and funds raised.

It won't be surprising, though, if the numbers are down. The fallout from the Planned Parenthood debacle is long-lasting and widespread.

Komen's decision was ill-advised and based on the scurrilous charge that Planned Parenthood allegedly spent taxpayer funds on abortions. That was not true then, it was not true in the past and it is not true now. The agency, which does provide legal abortion services to a very small number of clients, is quite careful to keep federal funds, which by law cannot be used for abortions, from being used for such services.

The public, especially those in the women's health, breast cancer and charity communities, have long known that. Komen officials at the time of the decision did not, or else chose to ignore facts. The result: The Komen Foundation was widely viewed as a tool of ultra-conservatives who will use anything, anyone or any organization to discredit or eradicate Planned Parenthood, a perennial target of right-wingers. A quick reversal of policy could not paper over the damage.

Now, women and men who were once strong supporters of Komen have turned away. A Texas woman who has participated in many earlier races won't do so this year. She's fed up with the organization and has donated what would have been this year's entry fee to Planned Parenthood. A businessman in North Carolina, a long-time supporter of Komen, feels the same way. He says he feels that "upper management [at Komen] was lying, really not being honest" about the decision about Planned Parenthood.

Komen officials know they have a festering problem. "I think there's no getting around the fact that the controversy did have an impact," Leslie G. Aun, a national spokesperson for the race, says. "We're not back where we were. We know that it's going to take a while." It likely will.

Antipathy toward Komen, though, should not reduce support for breast cancer research and treatment. The need is still great. There are other thoroughly vetted local and national organizations that do yeoman work in the field without divisive forays into political minefields. Their work still can unite all Americans in a common and positive cause.