Why Komen Should Think Twice

Many of you have probably read about the Susan G. Komen Foundation cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and other breast health related services. Before I offer my thoughts on that issue, I know I’m likely to annoy and potentially offend some people with this post, and I do think that is unfortunate. However, I’ve been pretty close to this issue in the past and I feel that politics are in this case having a direct negative affect on the healthcare of women, so I felt like offering my opinion. I’d like to thank a blog I follow, Cognitive Dissonance, for bringing this issue up and encouraging discussion about it. Although I think most of you will discover our blogs tend to be on different sides of the political spectrum, I think her thoughts are also worth a read.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me explain my involvement on the issue from the Komen side of things. Yes, I was formerly a member of the steering committee for a regional Komen affiliate. No, that affiliate did not give any grants to Planned Parenthood offices. No, I have never worked with any Planned Parenthood office in any capacity, Komen or otherwise. No, I did not receive financial compensation for my work with that Komen affiliate. My position was purely dedicated to the regional Race for the Cure and organizing and recruiting volunteers for the event, so I don’t feel there is any conflict of interest on this issue. I do think my past work with Komen and my current status as a medical student shows my commitment to the well being and health of women, and I hope most of you will take that into account when considering my opinion.

To provide a quick summary of what happened, feel free to read this article at NPR regarding Komen’s decision to cut off grants to Planned Parenthood: http://www.npr.org/2012/01/31/146160911/susan-g-komen-halts-grants-to-planned-parenthood . Basically Komen has been providing grants to a handful of Planned Parenthood offices in low income areas of cities across the country to specifically offer breast exams and education to women in their communities for several years.   The grant funds were restricted to these purposes and monitored to ensure the grant recipients used those funds for the sole purpose of breast exams and education. I’m sure all of you know Planned Parenthood’s reputation as the nation’s largest “abortion provider” and generally speaking, that’s probably true. But my personal feelings aside on their involvement in abortions, I do realize that they are often one of the few healthcare facilities of any sort in very low income areas. Many of the women they see do not have health insurance and do not keep regular appointments with their primary care doctor, if they have a primary care doctor at all. Regional Komen affiliates started offering these grants to Planned Parenthood offices in their areas because they saw the need these women had for breast exams and recognized a lack of infrastructure in their neighborhoods to provide these services to them. They also saw the data showing these women often don’t catch their breast cancer until it is much farther along than women who get routine breast exams and as a result their outcomes were much worse. Was it an ideal partnership? No, probably not. But this partnership did allow thousands of women to get a free breast exam and learn more about performing self exams and breast cancer in general that otherwise wouldn’t have had access to these resources. The offices would be listed and publicized as offering these exams for women and word would get out to the community that a free exam was available in their neighborhood. These aren’t just women that were coming to Planned Parenthood for abortions or other reproductive health reasons (not that it should matter if it was, those women need access to breast exams too), these exams were available to everyone in the community. Komen had strict rules about how the Planned Parenthood offices promoted these exams and how they had to be independent of their other services. So why are the grants being cut off? That’s where it gets political.

The Komen national office recently adopted a new rule that they could not provide grant funding to any organization under investigation by local, state, or federal authorities. Sure, I thought, that sounds pretty reasonable: Why would Komen want to allow their funds to go to any organization that might be misusing them? It’s when you start reading the articles and looking into it further that you see this rule was adopted just around the time that Planned Parenthood was put under investigation by Representative Cliff Stearns from Florida. It could be coincidence, and the rule itself sounds logical, but you also have to think about the amount of political and religious pressure Komen has been under for the last few years to cut off funding to any Planned Parenthood offices. I know Komen is saying they’re cutting Planned Parenthood off because of the investigation (which may or may not be legitimate, I haven’t looked into it), but I find that hard to believe since they’ve also purged any mention of their involvement with Planned Parenthood and their explanation pages about the grants from their website on the same day they made the announcement. They’re not just cutting off the grants, they seem to want people to forget they ever provided the grants in the first place, and to me that sounds like they are caving to political pressures.

I dealt with my own concerns about Komen’s involvement with Planned Parenthood even before I worked with my regional affiliate, but after looking into it I decided that the grants were being used for good purposes and were in no way endorsing or supporting abortion. I think the religious organizations, some of which I generally respect, that have painted pictures of these grants as being Komen supporting abortion should be ashamed of themselves. They’ve boycotted Komen, made newsletters claiming Komen is funneling money to abortion providers (a deliberate or lazy twisting of the facts at best), and gotten thousands of pro-life people very riled up against Komen knowing those people won’t put in enough research to learn the whole truth behind the grants. They like to claim that these few regional affiliates that provided the grants (around 19 in total, it’s not as if a lot of affiliates were even providing grants to Planned Parenthood in the first place) could have given the money to other types of healthcare facilities in the low income areas of their regions to accomplish the same purpose, but I think that’s very short sighted and unrealistic. I’ve seen how Komen works when deciding who to award their grants to and there are always far more applicants than there are funds. If these affiliates were giving the grants to Planned Parenthood offices in their communities, I’m confident it is because they felt it was the only place these women would be able to get the care they needed. People need to face the facts and take a drive through the poorest parts of their community and tell me what they see. Yes, there are the occasional free clinics, but are they open every day? Do they have the necessary facilities and staff that are trained or can be trained to provide breast exams on a daily basis? Are there any churches, community centers, or other local non profits with the necessary facilities and staff? I think you’ll find the answer to all of these can be no in a lot of poor areas and a place like Planned Parenthood may simply be the only option. There are broader social concerns that this should also raise for those of us that aren’t a fan of Planned Parenthood but see the lack of other providers in these communities, but the bottom line is these grants went to a good cause administered through a politically divisive organization and the politics seem to have come crashing down on Komen in a way that forced their decision. Even the most adamant pro-life among us should take a good look at what was actually going on here and re-examine their position on Komen and these grants, because I fear they’ve cost thousands of women ready access to breast exams and I don’t see any way that is morally defensible.

As always, I’m interested to hear your opinion on these issues.

-M

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4 Comments

Filed under Komen, Politics

4 responses to “Why Komen Should Think Twice

  1. I’m sorry, but there are SO many alternatives to Planned Parenthood – even in low-income communities. Most of these women qualify for Medi-Cal and other gov’t subsidized medical care. I can guarantee you that there are low or no-cost gov’t subsidized clinics within 15 miles of every one of the Planned Parenthood clinics that previously received grants from Komen. Why can’t those clinics get grants? Why can’t the same women who get the breast exams at PP go to these clinics instead? I disagree with MOST of what PP stands for. Period. Yes, I am a father. Yes, I am pro-life. Yes, I am a practicing Catholic. And yes, all of these do impact my feelings towards the daily practices of PP.

    Now, on to how closely the grant money is monitored: I am a grant writer by profession. Yes, there are usually very specific uses for the money that need to be stipulated in the proposal before you can qualify for the grant funding. Getting around that is not only doable, it’s EASY. I don’t want to get into it any more than that as I think it is very unethical for these businesses, foundations, and nonprofits to spend the money differently than originally proposed; but I can tell you, it happens all the time.

    I maintain a blog where I post the most recent news on grant awards and fundraising (http://grantpros2011.wordpress.com). I recently posted a news story there about grant money being spent improperly. This isn’t just a little bit of money; we’re talking about misappropriated funds totaling $73 million. You can read the story at http://grantpros2011.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/new-gm-admits-global-fund-to-fight-aids-tuberculosis-and-malaria-needs-fixing/

    My point is, there’s always more than one way to handle things – in every situation. There’s always options. There’s options for health care and there’s options on how to spend awarded grant money. I just don’t support any institution that’s practices abortions on a daily basis. Granted this is just my personal opinion, just like yours above. I just saw a chance to post my piece! Thanks for the opportunity!

    For more information on grants and grant writing, visit my website at http://www.grantpros.org

    -Jason Shechtman

    P.S. I’ll be watching your posts closely, buddy… (lol)

    • Jason,
      Thanks for dropping by and chiming in! Your viewpoint on this comes from a different side of the spectrum and I appreciate you offering your thoughts on this. I’ll address a couple of your points briefly.

      The first comment about their being alternatives to planned parenthood in low income communities is one that a lot of people have made. However, the Komen affiliates giving these grants to planned parenthood said that wasn’t the case in their areas. In most instances where a Planned Parenthood clinic grant application was approved they were the only potential source of free breast exams on a daily basis in quite some distance. In the larger urban areas they also were trying to reach the population of poor women that can’t drive 15 miles to another clinic. We often forget how different our lives are than the very poor without access to a vehicle, and that has been made clear by some of the Christian organizations posting comments about free clinics being available “only several miles away” from some of the Planned Parenthood offices that received grants. We all like to assume these women always qualify for Medicaid (not always true, there are a lot of working poor that don’t, but even if they do transportation and finding a doctor who will accept them can still be a problem) or that there are other clinics they can get to that can provide the same service, but I don’t think those assumptions are always correct. Make no mistake, I am not saying I support Planned Parenthood, but I am saying that I can at least understand how they received these grants and why. I really wish Komen hadn’t shut down their pages explaining their position on Planned Parenthood or I’d provide some of the info from there for you to review. I have never worked with an affiliate that provided grants to Planned Parenthood so I can’t speak to their specific approval thought process, but I do believe that they directed the funds where they thought they could do the most good for the most women in their areas. It’s possible that those other clinics you mention either didn’t have the necessary infrastructure, or didn’t apply for grant funds at all. Personally I’d love if the community centers or churches in these low-income areas would band together and try to support free clinics in the area that could then received grant funds from Komen for these same programs and make the Planned Parenthood grants unnecessary, but clinics like that are still very rare.

      I’m not as familiar with the grant process as I’m sure you are and there are some legitimate concerns about organizations misusing grant funds. I can only hope that the clinics that did receive all the Komen funds used them for their proper mission, or those clinics certainly don’t deserve to ever receive a cent from Komen or any other charity again.

      Thanks again for stopping by and I’ll try to read the article you posted above as soon as possible.
      -Matt

  2. Oh yeah, and to answer your question:

    OF COURSE KOMEN CAVED TO POLITICAL PRESSURE!

    That’s what this is all about, right? politics?

  3. Hi Matt! Thanks for getting back to me. I apologize for how long it took me to get back to you. I forgot to select “notify me of follow-up comments,” so I didn’t have an opportunity to read your reply until I re-visited your blog; which was right now.

    You know, what can I say? It’s a push-and-pull. One thing in particular has come to my attention since I first left my response to your post: Komen claims to have disrupted funding to PP due to an investigation by Congress. From my understanding, this investigation was initiated because of suspicion of misused grant funding (go figure, huh?).

    I’m sure our different backgrounds are responsible for spurring all these varied viewpoints on the subject. You’re a med student, and I would expect nothing less of you that to support what seems right medically.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts, Matt! Thanks for your time my friend!

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