BY MAURA AMMENHEUSER
Should Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the giant breast cancer nonprofit, yank funding from Planned Parenthood?
That's the question at the center of last week's firestorm surrounding Komen, which until now enjoyed a saintly reputation as a nonprofit raising huge sums for breast cancer research and to pay for mammograms, the most commonly used screening tool for breast tumors.
Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, has no such luxury when it comes to image. Because about 3 percent of the services this nonprofit provides are abortions (the 2010 figure cited by the group's website), it has been a longtime lightning rod in the perpetual American debate over the legality and morality of abortion.
In the past five years, Planned Parenthood used Komen grants to provide about 170,000 breast exams and more than 6,400 mammogram referrals, according to the Planned Parenthood website. Screenings for several cancers comprised 14.5 percent of its services in 2010. The site also notes that many of its clients are low-income women with little other access to medical care.
When Komen announced it would halt grants to Planned Parenthood, it faced a blizzard of protest from women accusing it of caving to anti-abortion politics. Komen CEO Nancy Brinker denied this, responding without intitially mentioning Planned Parenthood by name, that the reason for the change was an updated funding policy that excludes groups under federal, state or local investigation. (Congress is investigating whether Planned Parenthood illegally used federal money for abortions.)
On Friday, Brinker reversed the decision, saying Komen will amend its policy, to only block funding to groups under investigations that are "criminal and conclusive in nature and not political."
I feel sorry for Brinker, clearly blindsided by an angry public. You can't go near the topic of abortion without fanning an inferno. Apparently, legions of women who until now harbored only respect and gratitude for Komen felt personally betrayed by a decision they felt would limit access to mammograms.
If you or a loved one have had breast cancer - or if you've watched someone succumb to it - you understand the emotions of last week's controversy. This cancer affects one in eight American women at some point in their life. I once attended a fitness event with about 10 other women. The instructor mentioned this statistic, looked around our little circle and said: "That means at least one of us will have breast cancer someday. Which one of us will it be?" The memory still gives me chills.
Breast cancer's the third-largest killer of American women, after heart disease and lung cancer. Komen predicts 39,510 U.S women will die of it this year. Most are over 40, but the disease can strike at mercilessly young ages, at women in their 30s or younger whose children are only babies. The elderly aren't spared either. My grandmother required a lumpectomy - her only bout with breast cancer - in her 80s. Breast cancer claims mothers, wives, sisters, daughters.
The good news? Nearly all women whose breast cancer's caught before spreading beyond the breast survive at least five years, according to Komen. The greatest tools for early detection: Self-exams and mammograms. In theory, applying the 1-in-8 ratio, mammograms could save more than 19 million women.
Will those millions of mothers and daughters care whether their mammogram is provided by a clinic that also performs abortions? (Or, for that matter, one under Congressional investigation for something unrelated to mammograms?)
Which of Komen's decisions last week - to pull funding from Planned Parenthood, regardless of the reason, or to restore it - was the right one?
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