US health group drops Planned Parenthood cuts
Breast cancer charity backtracks on reproductive health funding cuts after criticism from women's health advocates.
Last Modified: 03 Feb 2012 22:25
Susan G Komen for the Cure made the pink ribbon a symbol for the fight against breast cancer (GALLO /GETTY)

After three days of controversy, a renowned breast cancer charity in the United States is reversing its prior decision to cut breast-screening grants to the country's most well-known reproductive health organisation.

"We want to apologise to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives," Susan G Komen for the Cure said in a statement on Friday.

The Associated Press news agency first reported on Tuesday that Komen had adopted criteria excluding Planned Parenthood from grants because it was under government investigation, notably a probe launched in Congress at the urging of anti-abortion groups.

In Washington, 26 US senators this week signed a letter calling on Komen to reconsider its decision.

"It would be tragic if any woman, let alone thousands of women, lost access to these potentially lifesaving screenings because of a politically motivated attack," the senators wrote.

Komen leaders had denied Planned Parenthood's assertion that the decision was driven by pressure from anti-abortion groups.

According to Planned Parenthood, its health centres performed more than four million breast exams over the past five years, including nearly 170,000 as a result of Komen grants. The grants totalled $680,000 last year.

'Fight against cancer'

As the controversy erupted, Komen was swamped with negative emails and Facebook postings accusing it of knuckling under to pressure from anti-abortion groups.

Many of Komen's affiliates across the US openly rebelled, and donations to Planned Parenthood poured in.

The group said donations since the original Komen decision surpassed $3m and has pledged to use the funds to maintain and expand its breast health services.

Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, thanked those donors on Friday and welcomed Komen's change of heart.

"We are enormously grateful that the Komen Foundation has clarified its grant-making criteria," Richards said. "What these past few days have demonstrated is the deep resolve all Americans share in the fight against cancer."

A source with direct knowledge of decision-making at Komen's headquarters has said the grant-making criteria were adopted with the deliberate intention of targeting Planned Parenthood.

Leadership change

The criteria's impact on Planned Parenthood and its status as the focus of government investigations were highlighted in a memo distributed to Komen affiliates in December.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, a driving force behind the move was Karen Handel, who was hired by Komen last year as vice president for public policy after losing a campaign for governor in Georgia in which she stressed her anti-abortion views and frequently denounced Planned Parenthood.

The source also said that Mollie Williams, who had been Komen's director of community health programs, had resigned in protest over the grant cutoff.

Williams, in an email, said she could not comment on her departure for reasons of professional confidentiality, but she was clear about her views.

"I have dedicated my career to fighting for the rights of the marginalised and underserved," she wrote. "And I believe it would be a mistake for any organisation to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission."

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