Web Fury Spurs Komen Reversal, $3 Million for Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., riding a powerful wave of Internet indignation, raised $3 million in reaction to Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision, reversed yesterday, to end its grants.

The dispute between Planned Parenthood and the breast-cancer group Komen, two of the largest health advocacy groups for U.S. women, concluded when Komen overturned its plan to call off $680,000 in Planned Parenthood grants and said in a statement it wanted to “apologize to the American people.”

Komen originally cited a congressional probe of Planned Parenthood in declaring the group ineligible for funding. Planned Parenthood said Komen was pressured by anti-abortion forces, setting off a blaze of Internet protest on Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and other websites.

“When it broke, it just caught fire,” Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s president, said yesterday in a conference call. “This is an extraordinary outpouring of support.”

The money, pledged by more than 10,000 donors, will be used exclusively for breast screening services, Richards said.

Komen, based in Dallas, reinstated access to its grants in a statement earlier in which it apologized “for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.”

While the disagreement between the two sides appears ended, the debate continued as Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life Committee, said Komen’s decision to reverse its decision will probably cost the breast-cancer advocacy group contributions.

‘Pro-Life Support’

“I think right now pro-lifers are going to be reluctant to support them because the money may go to the country’s largest abortion provider,” Tobias said in a telephone interview.

Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates, a New York-based reputation management firm, said Komen will have to “build up trust” as a result of how the events unfolded.

Komen was the most valuable nonprofit brand in the world, according to a 2010 report by Harris Interactive, a New York-based market research firm. Now, the brand may become part of the political debate, Paul said.

“People wanted to be associated with every single thing they did,” he said. “And now we hear politics and policy has influence. The same affinity people had on the positive side became the same affinity they’ve having on the negative perspective,” he said.

Previously, Komen had said it pulled the grants because of 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.

‘Criminal and Conclusive’

The newest Komen criteria say investigations must be “criminal and conclusive in nature and not political” to affect grant funding, Chief Executive Officer Nancy Brinker said in a statement. “That is what is right and fair.”

Planned Parenthood is now eligible for the next grant cycle and can apply to renew the $680,000 it currently receives from Komen. “I take them at their word that this is behind us,” Richards said.

Among Planned Parenthood’s $3 million in pledges were $700,000 from three large benefactors, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Komen provides $93 million in grants to local communities for breast-cancer education, screening and treatment. It 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.

Organization’s ‘Essence’

“The essence of the organization” has been obscured by the Planned Parenthood dispute, Brinker said Feb. 2 on a call with reporters. Brinker founded the group in 1982 after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer.

Social media fueled the wildfire-like spread of the controversy, said MGP’s Paul, adding, “the conversation that used to be only over the dinner table is now in a tweet or a Facebook status update in the millions.”

Two-thirds of more than 3,600 sentiments expressed online about the split were negative to Komen, 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.

The negative reviews of Komen on GreatNonprofits.org, a review system for non-profit organizations, increased 300 percent after the initial announcement that Komen halted funding of Planned Parenthood, according to an e-mail from Molly Niffenegger, a spokeswoman for the website.

Internet Petitions

About 250,000 people had 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. San Francisco-based Credo, the mobile phone provider that is Planned Parenthood’s largest corporate funder, had a petition that garnered 350,000 supporters, said Becky Bond, the company’s political director.

“We’ve seen that Planned Parenthood needs fierce defenders who believe in supporting women’s health,” Bond said.

Credo earlier this week pledged $200,000 in response to the Komen decision.

The supporters’ petitions were countered by groups such as thankskomen.com, which said it opposed Planned Parenthood,

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.

Abortion Debate

The debate over abortion percolates in American politics, and has figured in the 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination for president as candidates such as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum have pledged to stop abortions in almost all cases.

After Komen’s decision to restore Planned Parenthood’s eligibility, Republicans and Democrats switched sides in praising and criticizing the group.

“I am deeply disappointed in the sudden reversal by the Komen Foundation of their original pledge to cut ties with Planned Parenthood,” said Representative Renee Ellmers, a North Carolina Republican.

Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, said the Komen foundation “caved to political pressure from the pro-abortion movement.”

‘A Great Day’

Democrats, who had criticized Komen earlier, yesterday praised the group. “It’s a great day when our deeply held belief that breast cancer can only be wiped out if we all work together has triumphed over right-wing politics,” Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said in a statement.

Abortion is among the volatile issues that may produce dangerous consequences for nonpolitical groups that become part of the debate.

“There’s this scorched-earth policy in politics,” said James Gregory, CEO of CoreBrand, a brand consulting company in New York, said in a telephone interview. “There’s a willingness to destroy anything that crosses you politically.” he said in a telephone interview.

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