Witch Hunt or Policy Shift? Susan G. Komen Defends Cutting Planned Parenthood Funding

Alan Petersime/AP

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation continues to face heavy backlash for cutting off hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for Planned Parenthood.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg today became the latest to jump to the side of Planned Parenthood, giving the group $250,000 to help make up for the lost funds. He will also give $1 for every dollar Planned Parenthood raises up to $250,000.

"Politics have no place in health care," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Breast cancer screening saves lives and hundreds of thousands of women rely on Planned Parenthood for access to care. We should be helping women access that care, not placing barriers in their way."

Planned Parenthood affiliates received about $680,000 per year from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Of the four million women who got breast exams through those clinics in the last five years, 70,000 were provided through the Foundation.

Immediately after the announcement Tuesday, the abortion rights group launched a program to make up for that lost funding. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had received $650,000 in donations, $250,000 of which came from oil tycoon Lee Fikes and his wife. Eric Ferrero, vice president for communications, said there's been an "outpouring of support" from across the country.

Meanwhile, the Susan G. Komen Foundation - the Web site of which was hacked briefly late Wednesday - is under fire despite attempts to deflate the situation.

An indie rock band, The Decemberists, today pulled its support from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, saying it will now give all its funds to Planned Parenthood's Breast Health Emergency Fund.

Multiple board members of the country's largest largest breast cancer organization have resigned in the wake of the controversy. Dr. Kathy Plesser, a radiologist who sits on the New York chapter's board, told the Huffington Post she was "disturbed" by the foundation's decision. The executive director of the Los Angeles chapter also announced her resignation today, saying that her talents and skills no longer "fit their model." And the foundation's chief public health official, Mollie Williams, also reportedly resigned over the decision, though she has yet to confirm it.

Leaders of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation argue that their move was not political, but was spurred by a new criterion that bars them from giving money to organizations that are under investigation.

"This is not a political decision," the foundation's chief executive, Nancy Brinker, said on MSNBC today, responding to a charge by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that the move was a "witch hunt" and reminiscent of the McCarthy era.

Twenty-two senators have signed a letter calling on the Foundation to reverse its decision.

Planned Parenthood was the only grantee among 2,000 other organizations whose funding was cut off under the new policy.

The investigation that led to the decision by the Komen Foundation is being undertaken by a Congressional committee looking into Planned Parenthood affiliates to see if they used taxpayer money to fund abortions. The investigation was spurred by anti-abortion Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee.

"Recently, we implemented new granting strategies and criteria some have regrettably mischaracterized," Brinker said in a video statement. "Regrettably, this strategic shift will impact any number of long-standing partners."

"We will never bow to political pressure," she added, dismissing the accusations as "scurrilous."

Brinker denied that the move involved or was spurred by Karen Handel, an outspoken critic of Planned Parenthood and a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who was recently hired by the Susan G. Komen Foundation as senior vice president.

The current grants will not be pulled but the 19 affiliates whose breast cancer initiatives were sponsored partially by the Susan G. Komen foundation will not receive any new grants.

The 90-year-old organization, which provides reproductive services for women, had blasted the decision as a political move.

"There has been a years-long coordinated pressure campaign from right-wing organizations to get Komen to sever ties with Planned Parenthood," Fererro said. "The true culprits here are the organizations that bullied, harassed and pressured Komen for years on this."

The controversy comes amid a backdrop of contentious anti-abortion bills in Congress, and a  showdown between the Catholic Church and President Obama's administration over contraception and abortion.

In letters read to parishioners Sunday, Catholic Church leaders across the country openly denounced the administration's recent decision mandating faith-based hospitals, charities and schools to provide birth control and reproductive services in health insurance plans. The Catholic Church had lobbied intensely against the new requirement, which will go into effect January 2013.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, today denounced the move, saying that it requires "religious organizations to violate their beliefs" and is unconstitutional.

"I think this mandate violates our Constitution," he told reporters. "I think it violates the rights of these religious organizations, and I would hope that the administration would back up and take another look at this."

But the administration is showing no signs of reversing its decision and argued today that it is consistent with existing conscious clause policies.

"We made a decision after very careful consideration and we think it strikes the appropriate balance," a senior administration official said today.

Late last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also went head-to-head with the Department of Health and Human Services for rejecting them for a grant to help victims of sex trafficking, because the organization doesn't provide full gynecological services such as family planning, contraception and abortion.

Anti-abortion groups have found increasing support in Congress, where a number of lawmakers have introduced legislation to tighten restrictions on abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood. In October, the House passed a controversial bill, called the "Protect Life Act," that bars lawmakers or any other entity from requiring insurance companies to provide abortion services or mandating hospitals to provide abortion services.