Komen Says Criticism Over Planned Parenthood Unfounded

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer advocacy group, moved to blunt criticism of its decision to end funding for Planned Parenthood, even as dissent erupted within its own ranks and a wave of Web appeals was on the verge of replacing the money.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America received $400,000 from 6,000 donors as of Feb. 1, said Shawn Rhea, a spokeswoman, and the group said yesterday pledges were coming at such a pace they couldn’t immediately update the amount. Three large donors also surfaced: The Amy and Lee Fikes’ Foundation, run by the head of closely held Bonanza Oil Co. in Dallas, promised $250,000; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would match the next $250,000; and Credo, a phone company, pledged $200,000.

The Komen foundation’s decision not to continue grants for 16 of 19 local Planned Parenthood affiliates sparked questions about its motives after Planned Parenthood said the action was prompted by pressure from anti-abortion forces. Critics and supporters were busy on the Internet with comment and petitions.

“This is a difficult issue made more difficult by the gross mischaracterization” of Komen’s intent, said Elizabeth Thompson, the Dallas-based group’s president, in a conference call with reporters.

Komen ended the Planned Parenthood grants after the foundation reviewed grant criteria, and decided to include a rule denying money to any organization under federal, state or local investigation, Chief Executive Officer Nancy Brinker said during the call. The decision was not political, she said.

House Inquiry

The foundation cited a probe by Representative Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, into whether New York-based Planned Parenthood is illegally using government money for abortions.

No other group has been told it won’t be receiving grants under the new criteria, though some “probably do” provide abortions, Brinker said. “We ask a lot of questions” of grantees, “but that’s not one of them.”

Mollie Williams, a former managing director for community health programs, resigned in January, according to her LinkedIn profile, a move that occurred after the board decided in December to withdraw the Planned Parenthood funds.

Thompson yesterday said she wouldn’t discuss Williams’ resignation. Williams didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment. On her Twitter account, Williams on Jan. 20 wrote an update suggesting her followers sign a “thank you” card from Planned Parenthood for President Barack Obama for his support of birth control coverage.

‘Prayers Go Out’

“I am overwhelmed by the love and support I received today,” she wrote on Twitter. “Thank you for your words of encouragement. My prayers go out to all involved.”

Komen, which provides $93 million in grants to local communities for breast-cancer education, screening and treatment, is known for the pink ribbons it first distributed to breast-cancer survivors and participants of the Komen New York City Race for the Cure in 1991, according to its website.

The foundation also funds research on the disease. Brinker founded the group in 1982 after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer.

“The essence of the organization” has been obscured by the Planned Parenthood dispute, Brinker said on the call.

Three Affiliates

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Northern Colorado, Waco, Texas, and Orange County, California, will continue to receive Komen funding because they’re the only providers of breast-cancer services in their area, she said.

Only the affiliate in Denver has been notified that it qualified to apply for the grants, said Rhea, of Planned Parenthood.

“This one affiliate has been invited to apply for the next year,” Rhea said. “But it’s important to note that these are very short-term solutions to what is the long-term issue of needing to provide much-needed breast care for women.”

Planned Parenthood advocates abortion rights and provides abortion services as well as offering breast exams and mammogram referrals. Komen grants paid for about 4.3 percent of the 4 million breast exams and 9 percent of the 70,000 mammogram referrals provided at clinics in the past five years.

Planned Parenthood has created an emergency fund to help local health centers continue offering breast-cancer services, the group said.

Fikes, Bloomberg Donations

The donation from the Fikes foundation was made “so that their health centers across the country can continue to put the real needs of women ahead of right wing ideology,” according to a statement on the group’s website. Lee Fikes didn’t return a call to the offices of Bonanza Oil seeking comment.

“Politics has no place in health care,” Bloomberg, the New York mayor, said in the statement about his donation. “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.” Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Most online comments about Komen’s action were downbeat, according to NetBase Solutions Inc., a Mountain View, California-based company whose software reads and interprets 50,000 sentences a minute from billions of social media sources.

Two-thirds of more than 3,600 sentiments expressed online about the split were negative, with people calling it “outrageous,” and saying it did “irreparable harm” to the organization, NetBase said.

Web Petitions

About 250,000 people have signed a petition on the website MoveOn.org, a political supporter of President Barack Obama, calling on Komen to reverse its decision, Sarah Lane, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. MoveOn is planning other efforts to pressure Komen to restore funding, she said. San Francisco-based Credo, the mobile phone provider that’s Planned Parenthood’s largest corporate funder, also has a petition.

Those petitions were countered by groups such as thankskomen.com, which said it opposed Planned Parenthood, invited people to give their personal information and have the option of being kept informed about “pro-life developments.”

Some of the political context has centered on the Komen group’s April hiring of Karen Handel as senior vice president of public policy. Handel joined the organization after an unsuccessful Republican campaign for governor in Georgia.

In that race, Handel wrote on her blog that she would eliminate any state grants for organizations such as Planned Parenthood which, she wrote, “I do not support.”

Handel Blog

Handel’s blog posting was a response to a campaign attack targeting her 2005 vote, as a county commissioner, approving a $425,000 grant for Planned Parenthood. She defended that vote in the same posting as support for pass-through funding of state and federal dollars for breast and cervical cancer screening. Handel didn’t return a call to Komen seeking comment.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said she was saddened by the dispute between the two women’s health groups.

“I know them to be an organization much admired, very professional, caring about women,” Pelosi said at a press briefing in Washington when asked about the Komen group’s action. “And I find this to be unfortunate. But I don’t attribute any motivation. I just don’t know why they would do such a thing.”

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