“Don’t Take Away my Cancer Screenings” by Elizabeth Chinn

So. The Komen train kinda was barrelling down the controversy road last week, but we still have some commentary.

As the years have gone by, pink ribbons have shown up on everything. From phone covers, to spatulas, to coy t-shirts with “I ❤ Boobs” proudly splayed across the chest,  to thousands and thousands of 5k runners’ backs, the Susan G. Komen’s endorsement to support Breast Cancer awareness and research is everywhere and on everything. Except, for a brief moment last week, Planned Parenthood.

According to the official website of the Susan G. Komen for a Cure Foundation, “Susan G. Komen fought Breast Cancer with her heart, body and soul. Throughout her diagnosis, treatments, and endless days in the hospital, she spent her time thinking of ways to make life better for other women battling Breast Cancer instead of worrying about her own situation. That concern for others continued even as Susan neared the end of her fight. Moved by Susan’s compassion for others and committed to making a difference, Nancy G. Brinker promised her sister that she would do everything in her power to end Breast Cancer forever.” Nancy G. Brinker promised she would do everything in her power, forever in honor of a beloved sister who forever thought about others before herself. The website also boasts that, “we are the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.” Why, then, was this solemn promise being broken?

The answer is the politicalization of health care and women’s bodies. On Tuesday, January 31, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s official statement to the Associated Press was that “they had decided to stop funding Planned Parenthood, saying a new national policy barred support for organizations under government investigation.” A House committee began a probe in September into Planned Parenthood’s compliance with federal restrictions on funding abortions.  Planned Parenthood said the fund cutoff was the result of Komen bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists, especially those within their own ranks. Komen also hired a vice president last year, Karen Handel, who had previously advocated for the group’s defunding in her run for Georgia governor.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation reversed their stance on Friday, February 3rd, after pressure steadily mounted pressure from a wide variety of sources. Twenty-six  U.S. Senators in Washington signed a letter calling for the decision to be overturned. “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. Planned Parenthood says its health centers have performed more than 4 million breast exams in the past five years past five years, and nearly 170,000 of those were only possible because of the grants from Susan G. Komen. That decision had the potential to deny preventative health care to thousands of American women, especially women in under-served communities like our own here at Ohio University. My own mother and sister both had lumps in their breasts discovered by Planned Parenthood staff members during routine screenings. Then, Planned Parenthood facilitated the services that removed those lumps and the aftercare that accompanied those procedures.

In their official statement, the Susan G. Komen foundation stated:

We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.

The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.

Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.

It is our hope and we believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow down and reflect on how grants can most effectively and directly be administered without controversies that hurt the cause of women. We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue. We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics.

Starting this afternoon, we will have calls with our network and key supporters to refocus our attention on our mission and get back to doing our work. We ask for the public’s understanding and patience as we gather our Komen affiliates from around the country to determine how to move forward in the best interests of the women and people we serve.

We extend our deepest thanks for the outpouring of support we have received from so many in the past few days and we sincerely hope that these changes will be welcomed by those who have expressed their concern.

Like many others, I am eternally grateful for the Komen for the Cure foundations renewed commitment to Planned Parenthood and the breast health of thousands of under served communities and their apologies are phenomenal, especially give their rarity in moments like this.

However, even with Karen Handel’s resignation, it would be foolish to believe that this is the last attack on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization’s funding for Planned Parenthood. When that time comes, here’s my response:

“This is for all the anti-choice, anti-women people out there. Listen up.

You can spend every minute of every day trying to force the rest of us to live by your ideology. You can go after federal funds for health care and pressure private organizations like the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to stop funding Breast Cancer screenings for poor women. You can try to make it impossible to get birth control.

But you know what you can’t do? You can’t win. You can’t break us. Planned Parenthood isn’t just a family of organizations. It’s a movement. It’s women and men of all ages who believe that health care — including reproductive health care — is a basic human right. We are millions strong. We are everywhere. We act, we give, and we do whatever it takes to make sure that Planned Parenthood is there for the women, men, and teens who rely on them.

Know this: When you go after Planned Parenthood and the people they serve, you go after ME. I stand with Planned Parenthood. I stand with them against anyone who wants to stop women from receiving the health care they need. I stand with them today, tomorrow, and for as long as I need to.”

*Emphasis added by author, Elizabeth Chinn, the Women’s Center Graduate Assistant

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About Ohio U Women's Center

The Ohio University Women’s Center serves and responds to the needs of OU women students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. Founded in 2007, the center is dedicated to creating an inclusive and welcoming campus climate for all members of the community through programs, resources, referrals, advocacy, and education. Located in Baker University Center 403.
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