Komen leaders raced to wrong conclusion

Komen founder Nancy Brinker has denounced what she calls "scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization." (Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press)

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Foundation was wrong to pull funding it usually designates for Planned Parenthood affiliates. Fortunately, the group changed its mind.

Komen used a flimsy excuse to justify snatching its annual allocation, which was $680,000 last year. The Dallas-based Komen said a new policy prevented donations to any group under government investigation. But an ongoing congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood appears to be little more than a poorly veiled attack on women’s reproductive rights.

The probe by Republicans in Congress centers on whether Planned Parenthood improperly used federal funds for abortion services. Planned Parenthood has long contended that no federal funds are used to provide abortions, and only a small percentage of its revenues are used for abortion services.

Following a storm of criticism, Komen announced Friday that it was restoring Planned Parenthood’s funding and amending its policy “to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.”

As the country’s largest provider of abortion services, Planned Parenthood has been a frequent target of antiabortion groups. But the funding it receives from Komen provides valuable breast-cancer screenings, mostly annual clinical exams, to about 170,000 low-income women who may not otherwise have access to preventive care.

It was hard to understand why Komen, the largest breast-cancer advocacy organization, would risk losing public support by severing a five-year partnership with Planned Parenthood. There was widespread speculation that Komen officials were led down the wrong path by Karen Handel, its new senior vice president for public policy. The former Republican candidate for governor of Georgia said in her 2010 campaign that she was pro-life and opposed to Planned Parenthood’s mission.

Komen founder Nancy Brinker insists that the organization “will never bow to political pressure.” But that was exactly what it looked like it was doing in cutting off its funding to Planned Parenthood. The decision had many longtime Komen supporters seeing red, instead of the iconic pink ribbons that have come to symbolize the group’s fight against breast cancer.

Outraged Komen supporters flooded social-media sites with comments and began sending cash to Planned Parenthood. Besides $400,000 in smaller donations from individuals, Planned Parenthood received $250,000 from a family foundation in Dallas, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to match future donations up to $250,000.

Some Komen affiliates even went so far as to withdraw from the national organization so  they could continue to provide funding to Planned Parenthood. Considering the possibility that other affiliates might follow suit, Komen’s reversal of its Planned Parenthood decision wasn’t surprising.

Sadly, this controversy has put a rift between two worthy organizations that are both committed to detecting and curing breast cancer — a disease that doesn’t choose its victims based on their political affiliation. This fight injected politics where it has no place, and innocent victims were caught in the middle — vulnerable women who might have been denied the cancer screenings they need as a result.