The world’s leading breast cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, struggled on Thursday to defuse a growing crisis over its decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion and birth-control services.
The sudden rift between the two top US women’s health advocacy groups triggered a furious debate on social media sites between supporters and opponents of abortion rights.
Democratic lawmakers called on Komen to reconsider its move as the organization was thrust into the center of an intractable dispute that some say would hamper its work for years to come. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged his own money to help Planned Parenthood recoup the lost funds.
Planned Parenthood had received about US$700,000 annually from Komen to provide poor women with breast cancer screening, education and access to affordable mammograms.
As the outcry intensified, Komen founder Nancy Brinker took to national TV and the Internet to deny that the charity’s decision was the result of lobbying from anti-abortion groups.
“We will never bow to political pressure,” she said in a video posted on the Komen Web site.
“The scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful to so many of us,” said Brinker, who founded the group following her sister’s death in 1980 of breast cancer. “More importantly, they are a dangerous distraction from the work that still remains to be done in ridding the world of breast cancer.”
However, philanthropy experts said it would be difficult for Komen to convince people it was not playing politics.
“There’s a long-term weakening of the Susan G. Komen brand from this decision,” said Melissa Berman, CEO of non-profit Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers.
“We would see donors reluctant to be involved with a charity whose decision-making gets influenced by short-term pressures and politics, because you would always wonder who is really in charge,” she said.
A Dallas-based charity, the Lee and Amy Fikes Foundation, said it was making a US$250,000 donation to Planned Parenthood to allow it to continue providing breast-screening services.
“Our family is saddened that the far right has relentlessly and successfully pressured [Komen] to cut funding for breast screening, referral and education support to low-income women who, until now, have been able to depend on the partnership between Komen and Planned Parenthood for their health,” the Fikes Foundation said.
The Komen foundation, known for its pink ribbon symbol and Race for the Cure fundraisers, has collected more than US$1.9 billion for breast cancer research.
On Facebook and Twitter, people expressed anger that the charity appeared to have taken sides in the polarizing debate.
“Susan Komen would not give in to bullies or fear. Too bad the foundation bearing her name did,” writer Judy Blume, known for her books on girls growing up, said via Twitter.
“It would be tragic if any woman, let alone thousands of women, lost access to these potentially life-saving screenings because of a politically motivated attack,” more than 20 US Democratic senators said in a letter due to be sent later yesterday.