Komen Foundation’s Calculated Right Wing Turn

Much of the reaction to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s decision to cut ties with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has focused on the idea that the foundation sadly succumbed to political pressure from the right. This line of analysis misses the point. Komen didn’t bend to pressure from the right; it made a calculated decision to support the right wing war against women’s rights.

Komen has defended its decision to halt its funding for the womens health group by claiming that it would not longer fund organizations that are under investigation. This claim doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Of the roughly 2,000 organizations to which Komen gives out grants, Planned Parenthood turned out to be the only one affected by the supposed no-investigations rule. That’s not to say that it’s the only group which could be affected. As Mother Jones reports, Penn State University — which is currently the subject of a federal investigation related to the sexual assault allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky — is currently the beneficiary of a five year, $7.5 million grant from Komen.

Clearly, something else is going on here. As Jeffrey Goldberg writes in The Atlantic, sources within the Komen Foundation claim that the foundation made a specific political decision to defund Planned Parenthood.

“The cart came before the horse in this case,” said the source, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity. “The [“no-investigations”] rule was created to give the board of directors the excuse to stop the funding of Planned Parenthood. It was completely arbitrary. If they hadn’t come up with this particular rule, they would have come up with something else in order to separate themselves from Planned Parenthood.”

Goldberg’s account of Komen actively searching for ways to go after Planned Parenthood is corroborated by Connie Schultz, who reported that Doug Scott — the president of right win pro-life group Life Decisions International — all but admitted to her that Komen told him about their decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood a full two weeks before they told Planned Parenthood itself.

The Planned Parenthood decision isn’t the only rightward turn taken by Komen in recent months. Last November, the foundation quietly released a statement pointing out that it does not support embryonic stem cell research, and has gone from funding five groups that engage in such research in 2010 to zero in 2011.

Pro-life advocates have been protesting Komen’s choice to fund Planned Parenthood for years. So why would the foundation spontaneously bow to pressure after all these years? The answer is that it didn’t. Instead, its leaders appear to have made a calculated decision to join the pro-life movement.

Many have attributed Komen’s hard right turn to Karen Handel, the foundation’s new senior vice president for public policy (and a vociferous opponent of both Planned Parenthood and stem cell research.) As Komen’s former senior communications adviser John Hammarley told Goldberg, “the internal debate on a senior level [about funding Planned Parenthood] rose in the past eight months or so, coinciding with her hiring.” Ultimately, however, the individual behind the decision is irrelevant.

What’s far more important is the ongoing war against reproductive rights in the United States. In the first three months of 2011 alone, legislators in 49 states indroduced 916 measures related to reproductive issues (with 56 percent of those measures trying to restrict abortion access.) Congressional Republicans are using access to birth control as a centerpiece of their opposition to President Obama’s health care reform. Pro-choice Republicans are an endangered species, bordering on extinct. The Republican right is attempting to snuff out choice and contraception, and appears to have found a willing ally in Komen for the Cure.



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