Three Lessons from the Komen Foundation Controversy

There may have been many lessons from last week’s Susan G. Komen Foundation reversal of its decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood, but three are worth noting here.

1) The collective will and voices of women and their friends should not be taken for granted
2) Social media is proven yet again as an effective and efficient tool for grassroots mobilization
3) When politics trumps people the results can be disastrous

Planned Parenthood is no stranger to controversy and criticism. Last April, the House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood though the measure failed in the Senate. Planned Parenthood is under investigation by Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns to determine if the organization illegally used federal funds for abortions. The outspoken Republican Representative is also involved in the investigation of Solyndra the green energy company that received federal grants.

But when the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that it would no longer fund Planned Parenthood because of new guidelines that bar it from funding organizations under congressional investigation, the response was immediate. Many women health advocates believed the rationale was deeply rooted in a longstanding conservative campaign against abortion—disguised under Planned Parenthood. Critics flooded the Internet to voice their disappointment in the decision by the Foundation. Members of Congress, public officials and healthcare advocates joined the fray. In just a few days Planned Parenthood raised an estimated $3 million in donations, which will be used exclusively for breast screening services.

During the controversy, social media was a critical tool in spreading the word and increasing grassroots participation. Planned Parenthood’s Facebook page received 10,000 new friends and there were more than 1.3 million Tweets referencing Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Originally, the Susan G. Komen Foundation statement said that “Grant making decisions are not about politics—our priority is and always will be the women we serve. Making this issue political or leveraging it for fundraising purposes would be a disservice to women.” The web was abuzz about former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, now the senior Vice President for Public Policy and her role as the mastermind behind the defunding campaign. One thing is for sure there is very little wiggle room between Handel’s public Pro-life stance and her lack of support for the mission of Planned Parenthood. A political pro-life candidate who runs for governor in a red state—kinda sounds political. If it quacks like a duck then it’s a duck.

The sad truth was that the initial effort aimed at abortion took a huge swipe at low-income and underserved women who simply sought breast exams. The price of politics was costly for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. There is a clear crisis in leadership at the organization. The financial windfall is great news for women’s healthcare and those who might otherwise been undiagnosed. The only question now is—-was the priceless loss of the public confidence and trust in Susan G. Komen really worth it.