Komen reversal allows sighs of relief

The Planned Parenthood building in Athens.

Women's health advocates in southeast and central Ohio are hoping that the flap over breast-screening grants to Planned Parenthood don't set back their cause.

This applies to both the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood officials based in Columbus, where this region's Komen Race for the Cure is set for May 19 and draws many participants from the Athens area.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation on Friday reversed its decision to halt funding to Planned Parenthood after public outrage spurred debate among millions of concerned citizens regarding women's health care.

Nancy G. Brinker, CEO and founder of the Komen Foundation, made a public apology Friday afternoon after announcing last Tuesday that new funding criteria prohibited the breast-cancer-fighting foundation from supporting any organization under investigation. The investigation in question was launched by a Republican congressman who suspects Planned Parenthood is funding abortions with taxpayer dollars, a charge PP has repeatedly denied.

"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," Brinker said in the statement. "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."

The statement said the foundation has amended its funding criteria to only include investigations that are "criminal and conclusive in nature and not political."

Though the Komen Foundation claims its decision was never political, critics accused the organization of bowing down to anti-abortion groups and putting political interests above women's health care. A New York Times article posted Friday noted that anti-abortion advocates have pressured the Komen foundation for years, criticizing them for providing grants to Planned Parenthood for breast-cancer screening.

Millions of people across the nation engaged in online debate on Facebook and Twitter, and many stood up in support for Planned Parenthood. According to the New York Times article, "A social media analytics tool for a Washington-based public relations firm showed that 75 percent of the people posting on social media channels about the decision were sharing negative comments about Komen's decison while 25 percent supported it. According to the analysis, more than 20 percent said that they would not give money to Komen because of the move."

Had Komen gone through with its decision to halt funding, Planned Parenthood officials said, PP would have lost $700,000 annually in support for under-privileged women in need of breast cancer screenings and education programs.

In a news release, Lisa Perks, CEO for Planned Parenthood of Southeast Ohio, said, "We are so glad that Komen has restored funding to Planned Parenthood for vital breast-cancer screening and education services. This decision reinforces that women's health care, and breast cancer in particular, is no place for politics… We would like to thank all of our dedicated supporters who continue to stand with Planned Parenthood for women's health and who made contributions to ensure Planned Parenthood wouldn't have a gap in funding."

Ohio University senior Kristen Witham said she was initially confused as to why Komen would withdraw grants from Planned Parenthood. "Early detection is the biggest defense that we have against breast cancer, and Planned Parenthood offers free screenings and information for those who can't otherwise afford it," she said. "I'm politically very conservative, but Komen is a non-profit organization for women's health, and this affects women across the board; it doesn't matter what their political stance is. I'm glad they're reinstating the funding."

In a news release, Becca Thomas, director of communications at Komen Columbus, emphasized a focus on moving forward and committing to their mission of helping women. "We've been trying to have open lines of communication, and we certainly appreciate community support and are happy to address any concerns," she said.

Thomas said Komen is hopeful that the community will continue to come together for the signature "Komen Columbus Race for the Cure," which serves 30 counties in central and southeast Ohio by funding breast-cancer education, screening and treatment assistance programs. "Seventy-five percent of those donations support our local community who need our funding, mammograms and education," she said.

According to a press release, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, publically thanked the community and Komen Foundation.

"The outpouring of support for women in need of lifesaving breast cancer screening this week has been astonishing and is a testament to our nation's compassion and sincerity," she said. "With Komen Foundation grants, over the past five years, Planned Parenthood health centers provided nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams and more than 6,400 mammogram referrals.  With the outpouring of support over the past week, even more women in need will receive lifesaving breast cancer care."

Two Republican candidates for president sharply criticized the Komen Foundation's reversal in appearances over the weekend.

According to media reports over the weekend, both former House Speaker Newt Gingritch and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum blasted Komen for reinstating Planned Parenthood as a grant recipient.

"I think it's unfortunate," Gingritch told CNN Friday, vowing to cut all federal funding to Planned Parenthood if he's elected president.

"When you lure people in for women's health needs, and by the way, right down the hall you have an abortion clinic, I think that's inappropriate and think if Planned Parenthood is going to get any kind of help, they ought to split into two agencies," according to the Daily News article.

Santorum reportedly charged Komen with giving into "public pressure."

"Killing little children in the womb is not health care," he told Politico. "It's very disappointing that Susan G. Komen would continue to do that, which is a great organization that talks about saving lives, not ending lives."

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