There’s More Than One Reason to Dislike Komen(TM) for the Cure(TM)

Since you’re reading this on the internet, I will assume you have heard about the week-long controversy about Susan G. Komen for the Cure cutting future funding to Planned Parenthood, ostensibly due to it being under investigation, but probably due to anti-abortion Vice President for Public Policy Karen Handel (along with other conservatives at the helm). You probably also heard that Komen kinda sorta rescinded the decision (we’ll get to that), and just today there was news that Handel resigned. But before we go flocking back to pink ribbons, it’s important to realize that there are plenty of reasons to think twice about supporting Komen.

For starters, as Angus Johnston has pointed out, Komen hasn’t actually decided to fund Planned Parenthood again. It’s merely decided to allow them to apply for funding again with no real promise of granting the funds.

The new statement does not pledge Komen to reverse its funding decision, and it does not promise Planned Parenthood any new funding. Let’s look at the relevant passage (emphasis mine):

“We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.”

Komen had never intended to renege on its existing grant commitments to Planned Parenthood, as PP themselves noted in their press releaseannouncing the break between the two organizations (again, emphasis mine):

“In the last few weeks, the Komen Foundation has begun notifying local Planned Parenthood programs that their breast cancer initiatives will not be eligible for new grants (beyond existing agreements or plans).

It’s important to acknowledge that Komen hasn’t had a change of policy, or really even a change of heart. They’re doing damage control, most recently signified by Handel’s resignation, but in a year when the heat has died down they may very well refuse to award Planned Parenthood more funds.

There’s an article on Mother Jones by Clara Jefferey that’s well worth a read, where she explains that Komen used to be quite neutral on the abortion issue until anti-abortion activists began targeting the organization for its Planned Parenthood grants. But besides outside pressure, she takes a deeper look at who sits on the board of directors at Komen and why that could be a problem.

The point is that Komen is a giant grant-making operation (nearly $2 billion since 1982) that purports to represent all of womanhood and it’s being run as if it were still a small family foundation. Brinker and son, Custard, and O’Neill all run in the same circles, sit on the same boards, send their kids to the same elite schools. Komen’s board makes a nod to race (both Lauderback and Leffal are African-American), a nod to medicine, and a nod to someone with pull in DNC circles, but the core is a group of rich, Texan, conservative friends.

Gin and Tacos has the usual mix of snark and anger coupled with this breakdown of what Komen really is – hint, it’s not a charity, it’s a consulting firm:

[Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker] draws a salary of $459,000 annually, money well spent compared to the 39% of its budget the foundation spends on “public health education” (i.e., marketing itself). Not to mention that they also spend a million bucks per year in legal fees to threaten other non-profit groups who use the phrase For the Curetm, to which Komentm claims to have intellectual property rights.

That last part is important to the organization, of course, because every successful marketing campaign needs a good logo and a slogan. And that’s all Komen is – a consulting firm that helps large corporate clients sell more of their products through pinkwashing campaigns. By slathering everything from pasta to baseball bats to perfume to fast food with the Pink Imprimatur, consumers are led to believe that their purchases are making meaningful contributions to breast cancer research. Somewhere down the line a few cents per purchase may trickle into those bloated coffers, but the immediate and motivating effect of that pink packaging is to get you to buy things. In short, Komentm is a group of salespeople selling image. Whatever money benefits the sick, researchers, or recovering patients is ancillary.

Point is, Komen might still restrict funding for Planned Parenthood. On top of that, the organization will continue to spend most of its money on marketing and on filing lawsuits against other charities that use “for the cure” in their name. It’s better to give somewhere else. You can give to Planned Parenthood directly, as many have done. Otherwise you can give directly to research institutions and bypass the pink ribbon middleman. In addition to all of that, if you have the time I’d highly suggest reading Barbara Ehrenreich‘s 2001 piece in Harper’s Magazine, “Welcome to Cancerland,” and Lea Goldman’s more recent article in Marie Claire. They both go to great lengths to explain a lot about just what’s wrong with the breast cancer charity industry, from the goals to the mentality of the whole thing.


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