Commentary Politics

The Cancerous Politics and Ideology of the Susan G. Komen Foundation

Jodi Jacobson

This week it became clear there are things more important to the Susan G. Komen Foundation--the fundraising giant that each year during breast cancer awareness month virtually swathes the United States in pink, a la Christo--than ensuring women are able to access exams for early detection of breast cancer.  In a word: Politics.

See all our coverage of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s break with Planned Parenthood here.

This week it became clear there are things more important to the Susan G. Komen Foundation—the fundraising giant that each year during breast cancer awareness month virtually swathes the United States in pink, a la Christo—than ensuring women are able to access exams for early detection of breast cancer.

What could be more important to an organization ostensibly dedicated to the elimination of breast cancer? Answer: The politics and personal agendas of the organization’s senior staff and board, both of which have been infiltrated by right-wing ideologues and both of which were instrumental in a decision to deny further support from Komen affiliates to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide breast exams. In fact, it is now clear that some anti-choicers on Komen’s board and senior staff are actually willing to sacrifice poor women to breast cancer to satisfy their own agendas.

Nationwide, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses provide nearly 750,000 breast cancer screenings annually, offering risk assessments, breast exams, breast health information and education, and diagnostic and surgical referrals. Over the past five years, Planned Parenthood health centers have conducted nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams with funds from Komen, out of a total of more than four million clinical breast exams performed nationwide by Planned Parenthood clinics. Komen grants also supported more than 6,400 out of 70,000 mammogram referrals made by Planned Parenthood. These are affiliate-to-affiliate grants between Komen and Planned Parenthood sister oganizations at the state level.

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A large share of the clients served at Planned Parenthood clinics are low-income African-American and Latina women. The National Cancer Institute identifies lack of access to early and effective screening for breast cancer (and hence lack of early treatment) as a primary reason that African-American and Latina women die of breast cancer at higher rates than the general population. In fact, Komen itself recognized these links in a 2011 statement lauding its relationship with Planned Parenthood:

While Komen Affiliates provide funds to pay for screening, education and treatment programs in dozens of communities, in some areas, the only place that poor, uninsured or under-insured women can receive these services are through programs run by Planned Parenthood.

Komen further stated:

These facilities serve rural women, poor women, Native American women, women of color, and the un- and under-insured. As part of our financial arrangements, we monitor our grantees twice a year to be sure they are spending the money in line with our agreements, and we are assured that Planned Parenthood uses these funds only for breast health education, screening and treatment programs.

As long as there is a need for health care for these women, Komen Affiliates will continue to fund the facilities that meet that need.

But apparently those women no longer matter as Komen’s support has now been withdrawn. Last month, the national office of the Komen Foundation, which maintains tight control over its state affiliates, sent a memo barring those affiliates from using money they had raised at the local level to partner with Planned Parenthood clinics in improving access to breast exams.

Why? Not science, not evidence, not concern for women.

Politics and personal ambition, pure and simple.

It’s no secret that anti-choice legislators at the state and national level have made Planned Parenthood the central focus of their anti-woman agenda, spending well over half of entire legislative sessions in some states focused on cutting funding and limiting access to reproductive health services.  At the national level, the ongoing witch hunt aimed at PPFA has taken many forms, one of which includes a “Congressional inquiry” launched by House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.).  Stearns sent a letter to PPFA in late September 2011 asking for an avalanche of documents to “investigate” whether PPFA has used federal funds to provide abortion services.

In a letter protesting the move, Democrats Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) called the inquiry a politically-motivated waste of time and taxpayer money, stating:

“Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of a Republican vendetta against an organization that provides family planning and other medical care to low-income women and men. … The HHS Inspector General and state Medicaid programs regularly audit Planned Parenthood … These audits have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation.

Wasteful or not, any Congressperson can start such an inquiry, even for specious reasons. This is not equivalent to a legal “investigation” of an organization. What Stearns is doing is completely unfounded and politically motivated, but when you have power you can abuse it.

What does Stearns have to do with Komen? Anti-choice groups have long targeted Komen for its partnership with Planned Parenthood, in part by haranguing the organization and listing them as targets of various protests and boycotts, and in part by touting the medically-disproven and specious claims about non-existent links between abortion and breast cancer. A group known as Life Decisions International (LDI), the website of which is “fightpp.org,” has long had Komen on its boycott list.

These efforts hardly appear to have affected Komen’s bottom line since the foundation’s total gross revenue in 2010 was nearly $421 million, only several hundred thousand dollars of which were granted over the past five years by Komen’s state affiliates to local Planned Parenthood partners for education, screening, and referrals.  Moreover, as a large and well-known organization (albeit one criticized for its work on many levels) Komen appeared until now to stay above the ideological mud-pit of the anti-choice movement.

Last fall, however, things began to change. LDI began quiety telling other anti-choice groups that it had “won” the battle with Komen and that they should await public announcement of a policy change.

And suddenly, Cliff Stearns’ inquiry became a reason for the Komen national office to change what state affiliates could do with their funds. Komen’s board recently approved a new policy stating that affliates can only provide grant funds to other organizations if:

• The applicant is not currently debarred from the receipt of federal or state funding.

• No key personnel of applicant or any of its affiliates has been convicted of fraud or a crime involving any other financial or administrative impropriety within the last year.

• The applicant or any of its affiliates is not currently under a local, state or federal formal investigation for financial or administrative impropriety or fraud. (“Affiliate” means any entities that control, are controlled by, or are under the same control as applicant or independent entities operating under the same name or brand as applicant.)

While the policy ostensibly affects “any” organization to which Komen affiliates might grant money, the memo sent to state affiliates specifically targets Planned Parenthood.

“Currently, however, various authorities at both the state and federal levels are conducting investigations involving [Planned Parenthood] and some of its local chapters, and the organization is barred from receiving government funding in numerous states. Under these new criteria, Planned Parenthood will be ineligible to receive new funding from Komen until these investigations are complete and these issues are resolved.”

But these are lies and innuendo: There are no “authorities” investigating Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood is not barred from receiving federal government funding in any state.  No mature organization concerned about the health and well-being of women at risk of breast cancer would have created a policy targeting another respected organization with a record of saving untold lives.

But Komen can no longer claim the mantle of a respected organization. First, Komen last year hired Karen Handel, a former Georgia anti-choice gubernatorial candidate and Sarah Palin acolyte who promised as part of her platform to defund Planned Parenthood and other vital health services.  Handel, who lost her race but is said to have future political ambitions, is now Senior Vice President for Policy at Komen. She was originally endorsed in her race by and received money from current GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, with whom some sources suggest she remains closely allied. Romney, in turn, has suddently become more anti-choice than thou and has promised a federal personhood amendment as well as to defund Planned Parenthood.

Second, sitting on Komen’s Advocacy Alliance Board is Jane Abraham, the General Chairman of the virulently anti-choice and anti-science Susan B. Anthony List and of its Political Action Committee.  Among other involvements, Abraham helps direct the Nuturing Network, a global network of crisis pregnancy centers, organizations widely  known for spreading ideology, misinformation and lies to women facing unintended pregnancy and to use both intimidation and coercion in the course of doing so.  Also on the board of Nuturing Network is Maureen Scalia, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, no hero to women’s rights and health.

That Komen—an organization ostensibly dedicated to scientific exploration of cures for breast cancer—has invited on its advocacy board women so closely allied with organizations that so blatantly ignore science and medicine and spread outright lies to other women about their health and welfare speaks volumes about Komen’s ethical principles as an organization.

While anti-choicers including those on Komen’s board are spreading lies, Komen’s steps will ensure that more women who might have been screened will now lack access to early detection and treatment and may die from breast cancer. This is in keeping with a general and patently insane approach of the anti-choice movement: Decry abortion, for example, but limit funding for contraceptive education and supplies which can prevent the unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion. Decry the plight of minority women, but make their access to care increasingly limited. Cry for the “babies,” but defund pre- and post-natal care, nutritional support, and other forms of life and health care for infants and mothers.  It is a venal and disgusting strategy that until now I would have thought well beneath the Komen Foundation no matter other issues.

But Komen as an organization now appears so little able to stand the truth that it is deleting comments from its website protesting the policy change. And this is not the first time Komen has come under fire for misinformation or questionable affiliations. Some point to concerns about Komen’s influence on a recent Institute of Medicine report playing down environmental factors in breast cancer, and its close affiliation with many companies that manufacture products using cancer-causing agents.

Given these and other links, it may be no surprise that Komen’s own memo to its affiliates spreads lies about Planned Parenthood, nor that Komen’s actions belie its own claims to care about racial, ethnic and income disparities in access to breast cancer screenings.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control on disparities in access to care noted that women without insurance (38.2 percent) and women without a usual source of health care (36.2 percent) were least likely to be screened for cancer and that such disparities remained stark among Latina, African-American, and Native American women.

In response, Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Komen, said: “This gap in care for uninsured and low-income women is particularly troubling and one we have been working very hard to fill at Susan G. Komen. It’s clear that we have far more work to do for women who have no resources, no insurance, and no steady source of healthcare. They need our help the most.”

Not sure how she explains the foundation’s recent decision to those women who otherwise would have gotten that screening along with other health care at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

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