STOKING FIRE: Anti-Choicers Target Komen Foundation

Eleanor J. Bader

Despite the lack of any evidence linking breast cancer with abortion, anti-choice groups such as American Life League and National Right to Life continue to misinform the public. Now they are attacking the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Editor’s Note: A correction was made to this article at 6:54 pm Tuesday, September 15th, to reflect a mistake in the fundraising totals achieved by Susan G. Komen.  The Foundation raised $60 million last year alone and has raised $450 million over the course of the 27 years since it was founded.

In the early 1980’s Dr. Joel Brind, an endocrinologist at
New York’s Baruch College, began reporting a link between abortion and breast
cancer. According to Brind, any interruption in the hormonal changes caused by
pregnancy would increase a woman’s breast cancer risk exponentially.

In the nearly 30 years since Brind’s so-called discovery, a
bevy of international researchers have refuted his claim. The National Cancer
Institute of the National Institutes of Health, for one, convened a workshop
involving more than 100 of the world’s leading pregnancy experts in 2003.
“Having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk
of developing breast cancer,” they concluded.

Sadly, this well-publicized finding—corroborated by the
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Cancer
Society, and the American Medical Association–has failed to quiet Brind and
his anti-choice followers. Evidence notwithstanding, Brind’s cancer claim is
consistently repeated on anti-abortion websites and in printed materials.

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But apparently, preaching to their own hasn’t gotten the
antis adequate play, so they are now targeting Susan G. Komen (SGK) for
the Cure, a group that bills itself as “the world’s largest grassroots
network of breast cancer survivors and activists.”

SGK is indeed huge.  Last year alone it raised $60 million, and in the 27 years since its founding
has raised more than $450 million for research into the causes and treatments of
breast cancer, a disease that hits more than 190,000 women and nearly 2000 men
a year. What’s more, the group provides easy-to-read data on treatment options
for patients and their loved ones; resources for those looking to engage in
activism or advocacy are also available.

While you probably think this sounds pretty benign, Catholic
diocese across the U.S. and organizations
like STOPP International, an affiliate of the American Life League, disagree
and have dubbed Komen a menace to women. They’ve also launched a boycott of
SGK’s Race for the Cure.

The naysayers have two objections.  Want to stop breast cancer? they ask. Then advise women to
begin reproducing when they are young and warn them about the abortion/breast
cancer connection. Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a frequent speaker at National Right
to Life Committee events, goes so far as to call full-term pregnancy  “protective,” as if women who give
birth are somehow exempt from the disease.

Not surprisingly, this contention has gained little
traction, even among right-wingers, so the anti-Komen posse has trucked out a
reliable anti-abortion bugaboo, Planned Parenthood. Since its founding, Komen
has provided grants to outside agencies, including–you guessed it—the
reproductive health giant. According to John Hammarley, Senior Media Advisor to
SGK, “Komen reaches out to the
research community as well as those providing education, treatment, and
screening for women, all in the name of trying to find cures for breast cancer
and treating it as best we can in the meantime.  Komen affiliates invest hundreds of millions of dollars
every year in programs in their communities that are needed by women and men
touched by this disease.”

About 20 of the 125 state Komen affiliates provide grants to
local Planned Parenthood clinics. The money, Hammarley  adds–approximately $800,000 in 2008—is used
exclusively for breast cancer screening and educational programming, from
information on how to do breast self exams to nutrition. Not a dime, Komen
staff assures donors, pays for the provision of abortion or other reproductive
health services. Instead the funds are used to provide diagnostic evaluations
for uninsured and under-insured women who have no other access to professional
breast exams.

This assurance does little to assuage Dr. Lanfranchi. “If
aborting a pregnancy increases the risk of cancer and Planned Parenthood is the
nation’s number one abortion provider, Komen is contributing to increasing the
amount of breast cancer,” she rails. Similarly, Jim Sedlak of STOPP International
carps that Planned Parenthood is 
“an organization that exploits women, corrupts youth, and increases the
likelihood of breast cancer by promoting contraception and abortion.” 

The illogic is staggering, not unlike the fear-mongering put
forward by those who see healthcare reform as a Yellow Brick Road to
socialism. 

Still, there is good news to report.  Although it’s far too soon to predict
the upshot of the federal healthcare battle, by all accounts the anti-Komen
campaign has fallen flat, doing little to hamper the group’s ongoing efforts.  At the same time, Koman staff have had
to respond to anti-choice criticism and recently hired two Catholic ethicists
to rebut Diocesan efforts to stop the faithful from supporting SKG. “The good
that Komen does and the harm that would come to many women if Komen ceased to
exist or ceased to be funded would seem to be a sufficiently proportionate
reason” for Christian support, the commentators wrote.

There’s obviously a lot at stake.  Komen relies on corporate support for much of its research
and programming; 24 companies currently donate $1 million and another 70 donate
$100,000 to SGK each year.  Clearly, should a large-scale boycott catch fire, it will
have devastating consequences for Komen’s work with patients, their families,
and those interested in cancer research.

Despite the 
threat, SGK’s Hammarley dismisses the opposition. “Our friends and
supporters have been our strength throughout Komen’s history,” he says. “They
have been stalwart in their support. Those opposed to Komen’s involvement with
Planned Parenthood-sponsored programs have not impacted that support. Sponsors
and affiliates have been threatened with boycotts, but thankfully we haven’t
seen sponsors retreat.”

Let’s champion their resolve.

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