Susan G. Komen Foundation. Sponsors “Race For the Cure.” Stamps eggs, orange juice and yogurt covers with pink ribbons. Above politics.
Such was the “branding” of one of the most important organizations founded on the promise of safeguarding women’s lives by fighting the early detection of breast cancer.
A public relations firm might charge, what?, $100-250,000 for a comprehensive marketing/public relations rebranding campaign. The effort would be enormous and probably take from 12-18 months. But the Susan G. Komen Foundation has rebranded itself within the past 72 hours for zero dollars but at an incalculable cost.
Since 1982, when her only sister died of breast cancer, Nancy G. Brinker has dedicated her philanthropic life to creating the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Since then, the Komen Foundation has raised and distributed $1.9 billion for breast cancer research, education and healthcare screening. For this unselfish work, Brinker has rightfully been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and was presented the Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
But earlier this week, did Brinker cave in to political pressures to defund Planned Parenthood, long the punching bag of right-wing ideologues? At first, Brinker claimed the Fund had come to its decision to do so because Planned Parenthood was “under investigation” and the Fund’s policy is not to fund such groups. But by whom was Planned Parenthood being investigated? Conservative Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, a fierce anti-abortion politician. (He sits, by the way, on the House committee of Energy and Commerce. What this has to do with women’s health care, is beyond me.)
Within the day, Brinker was changing and massaging the message, trying to explain that nothing had been unfunded, that Planned Parenthood was, indeed, going to be receiving the $77,000 it had been promised for 16 clinics. But going forward, Brinker explained, the relationship could not continue because in 2010 the Komen Board had demanded a new set of criteria be met in order for funds to be released to any healthcare organization. And Planned Parenthood did not meet those new matrices.
What followed that night was an extraordinary exchange with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC in which Mitchell could barely contain outrage at Komen’s handling of Planned Parenthood. Brinker’s attempts to back-pedal on her original statement as to why Komen had cut its ties with Planned Parenthood were, in turn, cut to shreds by Mitchell (proving, once again, what a seasoned journalist, set free from the artificial bind of “objectivity,” can get done.)
Most incredible was the passion with which women and men responded to what they saw as a betrayal of the support they had given to Komen. Long-time donors vowed never to give to or run in the Race again, followers on Facebook produced videos in which they cut pink ribbons in half, men on Twitter defended their women’s needs for Planned Parenthood’s services and even NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $250,000 in matching funds for the continued support of local clinics. Within one day, more than $2 million in donations were made to Planned Parenthood.
By this afternoon, Brinker appeared before the media to announce that the Komen Board would reverse its decision – but not on the basis of matrices and measures. Instead, Komen will make certain only groups that have been convicted of criminal, not political, charges are out of the funding process. Although this might appear Komen is whole-heartedly re-establishing its partnership with Planned Parenthood, Brinker is instead spinning this one; Brinker never says that at all.
Still, the damage has been done but not to Planned Parenthood. For decades, this organizations has provided education, health screening and low-cost medical treatments for poor and under-insured women. Young women are able to receive breast cancer screenings and gynecological exams at highly vulnerable times in their lives. And Planned Parenthood has continued to provide this help while enduring great political and societal abuse, but quietly, faithfully. Abortion services, a legal procedure in the United States of America, accounts for less than 3% of its funds.
The sadness is that both Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure are desperately needed. Neither group can afford to ignore the other, not without discounting those who need them the most.
Whether or not it meant to do so, the Susan G. Komen Foundation has rebranded itself within the past three days. It allowed itself to get caught in the unrelenting right-wing purification process in America in which Those Who Talk to God are dedicated to the proposition that what a woman does with her body is their business, that their political judgments can be inserted into even her most private of medical decisions and that their divine sense of morality can, must and will prevail.
All I know is that I wrote out two checks this morning. One went to my hometown church, the one from which my beloved mother was buried last spring. The other went to an organization I’ve supported in silence but overlooked for far too long.