Komen's failed political gambit

Komen's failed political gambit

February 4th, 2012 in Opinion Times

The decision Friday by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to restore funding to Planned Parenthood is not a good deed. It is, rather, admission that the initial, politically driven decision to cut breast-screening grants to the nation's largest provider of health care services to women was just plain dumb. There's much to be learned from the Komen fiasco, but one lesson is more important than all the others: Partisan politics should have no role in the delivery of health care.

Komen spokesman and anti-abortion activists say, of course, that the decision to withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood was apolitical. Indeed, a spokesman initially said the decision to withhold funds was based on a new policy that requires Komen not to fund groups that are being investigated by the government. That, to be frank, was an expedient response designed to obscure the fact that right-wing politics was the motivation for cutting ties to Planned Parenthood, long a bogeyman for ultra-conservatives.

Planned Parenthood currently is the target of federal investigations solely because it allegedly spends taxpayer funds on abortions. That's an old charge that has never been proven. The current investigation, spurred by a far-right congressman from Florida, won't turn up any illegalities, either. The foundation is extraordinarily careful to keep federal funds, which by law can not be used for abortions, and grants from being used for prohibited services.

Komen's now-reversed decision is the latest part of a concerted, national effort to hound Planned Parenthood and to drive it out of business. In Tennessee, for example, two planned Parenthood affiliates are suing the state health department in federal court after the agency canceled two competitively bid contracts to provide preventative services for HIV and syphilis. Last year, the same affiliates lost $1.1 million in family planning funding after Republicans in the Legislature complained that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services. It should be noted that Planned Parenthood held and honored state contracts for years without a problem -- until Republicans gained control of the Legislature.

Attacks on Planned Parenthood are unfortunate, and undeserved. While the agency does provide legal abortion services in some instances, about 97 percent of its caseload at 800 clinics involves cancer screenings, contraception, prevention counseling and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive health issues. Many of those services are delivered to poor women or women without insurance who otherwise would have little or no health care at all.

Komen's quick retreat on the decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood comes too late to restore its image. Indeed, within hours of the announcement to cut the funding, donors -- many long-time supporters of the foundation -- more than made up the funding shortfall. Komen officials now will have a tough time winning back erstwhile supporters angered by the disgraceful targeting of Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood and Komen should be partners not at loggerheads. They have the same goal -- better health care for women -- and have worked together in the war against breast cancer. If Komen wants to help lower abortion rates, there is a way to do so without playing politics. Komen should publicly join Planned Parenthood in a broad-based campaign to provide women with access to contraception and health care. That's a cause that should unite all Americans, regardless of political ideology.