NPR

Planned Parenthood Vs. Komen: Women's Health Giants Face Off Over Abortion

Two of the nation's most iconic women's health groups are engaged in a nasty fight that's raising a lot of eyebrows.

The breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen For the Cure is pulling about $700,000 in breast cancer screening and service grants from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The money isn't massive by either group's bottom line: Komen raised more than $400 million in 2010; Planned Parenthood's total revenue that year was over $1 billion.

But it apparently marks a new chapter in the ongoing abortion war, not to mention the battle to defund Planned Parenthood.

Komen's reason, according to the Associated Press (the organization didn't return NPR's calls or emails), was a new policy forbidding grants to organizations under official investigation. President Cecile Richards confirmed that in an interview.

Planned Parenthood is the subject of an inquiry launched last fall by House Energy and Commerce Investigative Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

But members of Congress who back Planned Parenthood say that investigation is little more than the same allegations that have long been made — and not substantiated — against the group.

"This is a trumped-up investigation by some Republicans in the Congress who have a vendetta against Planned Parenthood," said Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

Planned Parenthood's Richards says she thinks the Komen Foundation has finally been pushed too far by pressure from anti-abortion groups. "I think what's really disturbing about seeing these right-wing attacks on groups like the Komen Foundation is we can't allow bullies to prevent women from getting the health care they need," she says.

But others say the pressure may have come from within the Komen organization itself. They point to the hiring last year of Karen Handel, a vice president who ran for governor in Georgia last year on a platform that included cutting state funds for Planned Parenthood.

Whatever the reason, it has outraged members of Congress like Colorado's Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat.

"I don't see two groups at war with each other," DeGette said. "I see the Komen Foundation declaring war on women's health. Planned Parenthood has done everything they've been asked to do. And with their own private money, with 3 percent of their services or less, they do abortions, which the last I heard were still legal in this country."

Anti-abortion groups, not surprisingly, are praising the Komen Foundation.

"The work of the Komen Foundation has lifesaving potential and should not be intertwined with an industry dealing in death," said Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life. Meanwhile, Steven Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal firm, said it "applauds Komen for seeing the contradiction between its lifesaving work and its relationship with an abortionist that has ended millions of lives."

But despite those plaudits, an even bigger question many are asking is, which of these huge and recognizable groups is likely to win this fight?

Deana Rohlinger, an associate professor at Florida State University who studies women's groups, thinks that while Planned Parenthood may lose this funding battle, it's likely to win the war.

Planned Parenthood is "an organization that has been around for a long time, and this isn't the first time it's seen a hit to its bottom line," she said. "It's gone without before, and I don't imagine that this is going to bring it down."

Komen, on the other hand, she says, has been seen, until now, as more about pink ribbons and T-shirts than politics.

Yet "by taking such a strong move, what they've done is made it more about abortion, potentially, than about women's health," she says. "And that could be problematic in terms of people that support the Komen Foundation. You're talking about a generally popular group, and some folks might reconsider participating."

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Transcript

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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A nasty fight has broken out between two of the nation's most iconic women's health groups. The breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure is pulling hundreds of thousands of dollars in breast cancer prevention grants from Planned Parenthood. The reason, it says, is an ongoing congressional investigation.

But NPR's Julie Rovner reports beneath that answer is a far more complicated story.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Planned Parenthood president, Cecile Richards, said she was actually stunned when she got a call from Komen officials right before Christmas informing her of the funding cut.

CECILE RICHARDS: It was really a shock and obviously distressing and very disappointing.

ROVNER: Richards said they told her the reason was an ongoing congressional investigation. Komen didn't return NPR's calls or emails today, but that's what a spokeswoman told the AP too.

But many think there are other likely reasons too. They include a newly hired Komen vice president who ran for governor in Georgia last year on a platform that included cutting funds for Planned Parenthood. And that congressional investigation, which was launched by Florida Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns accusing Planned Parenthood of misusing federal funds, some are raising questions about that, too, including California Democrat Henry Waxman and Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette.

REPRESENTATIVE DIANA DEGETTE: This is a witch hunt. Stop doing this.

ROVNER: That's DeGette, paraphrasing from the letter she and Waxman wrote to Stearns last fall. DeGette says the investigation is more of the same allegations that have long been made and not substantiated.

DEGETTE: Planned Parenthood has been a target of the right wing for many years. Most of what Planned Parenthood does is women's health services: cervical cancer and breast cancer screening.

ROVNER: And yes, Planned Parenthood also performs abortions, although not with federal funding. But that has made it a target. DeGette says the Komen Foundation has given in to political pressure.

DEGETTE: I was just shocked that a formerly respected foundation like the Komen Foundation, which has a mission to prevent breast cancer in women, would stoop to such a base political stunt like this.

ROVNER: But antiabortion groups are praising the Komen Foundation. Jeanne Monahan is with the Family Research Council. She says it makes no sense for the breast cancer group to be giving Planned Parenthood money, particularly given the fact that it doesn't even provide mammograms.

JEANNE MONAHAN: Given that Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest abortion provider, performing over 320,000 abortions in the last fiscal year, we'd absolutely prefer that Komen would be partnering with other organizations that are directly providing mammograms.

ROVNER: Planned Parenthood's Richards finds that logic absurd, particularly since mammograms aren't even recommended for the young women Planned Parenthood mostly serves.

RICHARDS: You know, we do breast exams for more than 700,000 women every year. And we refer women who have a lump, who have anything suspicious, to get further screening. And for many women, Planned Parenthood is the only doctor's visit they will have that year.

ROVNER: But beyond the bickering, the real question is many are asking is which of these huge and recognizable groups is likely to win this fight?

Deana Rohlinger, an associate professor at Florida State University who studies women's groups, thinks that while Planned Parenthood may lose this battle, it's likely to win the war.

It's an organization that has been around for a long time. And this is not the first time it's seen a hit to its bottom line. And it's gone without before, and I don't imagine that this is going to bring it down.

Komen on the other hand, she says, has been seen until now as more about pink ribbons and T-shirts than politics.

PROFESSOR DEANA ROHLINGER: It's not a secret by any stretch of the imagination that Planned Parenthood does abortion. That's not brand new information. But for some people, that Komen is getting politically involved is.

ROVNER: And she warns that may have some donors who now give to both groups rethinking their decisions. Julie Rovner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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