The Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s largest breast cancer charity, has had tremendous success in getting the color pink to be a nationally recognized symbol to raise breast cancer awareness. But a huge trust gap has opened up for Komen after the charity decided to pull funding for Planned Parenthood for breast cancer prevention, screenings and education. With a spreading backlash, and a precipitous decline in donations to the charity , founder Nancy Brinker issued an apology and said the charity has reversed its decision about Planned Parenthood funding. Sort of.
The problem is, this is a self-excusing apology, and there is a glaring lack of specifics on the future of funding for Planned Parenthood. This is feeding a growing suspicion that Komen is not a trustworthy advocate for women’s health.
I can tell you for a fact Komen has not regained my trust with this non-apology apology; in fact, they have made it worse.
“What can I trust?” is a profound question; in my view, it is a deeply spiritual question. There is so much in life that proves untrustworthy, and years of trust can be broken in a moment. Trust is precious, and its loss cannot be regained easily. This is what has happened to the Susan G. Komen foundation.
The “apology” comes close to blaming the American public for having doubts about Komen’s motives in this decision, and moves quickly to the denial that the decision was for “political reasons.”
“We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives… We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not. Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation.”
Except the rule about not funding “organizations under investigation” is a new rule, and Komen has a new hire for senior vice president for public policy, Karen Handel, who self-describes as “staunchly and unequivocally pro-life”.
In addition, at no point in the “apology” is there a promise that Komen will renew grants to Planned Parenthood, which is actually the reason for the massive outrage. Komen didn’t say it would pull current funding.
Suspicion is growing that Komen has become politicized in its decisions, putting politics ahead of women’s health. According to ThinkProgress, “Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for George W. Bush and prominent right-wing pundit, was secretly involved in the Komen Foundation’s strategy regarding Planned Parenthood.” This previously undisclosed information does seem to raise even more questions about whether this decision about Planned Parenthood funding was political.
As further evidence of the Susan G. Komen political tilt, the organization also pulled funding from Johns Hopkins for embryonic stem cell research. Johns Hopkins, needless to say, is not “under investigation” for anything. So what’s the rationale for that funding cut?
Komen is squandering its brand as an advocate for women’s health. There is a breach of trust with donors, donors like me who have sponsored walkers to raise money for breast cancer screening, treatment and research over and over again.
What will they do to get back my trust?
Well, selling pink handguns isn’t going to do it. Susan B. Komen, let me just ask, now what’s up with the sale of “pink handguns” to raise money? Do you know that according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, “for women, living in a home with a gun raises the risk of homicide by a factor of 3.4”? It will not matter if the gun is pink or not, just that it has bullets that can kill women.
What good does it do for so many women to raise money to try to find a cure for breast cancer in order to reduce women’s death rate from this awful disease only to lose them to hand gun violence?
Susan B. Komen for the Cure, what has happened to you?
The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is a professor of Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary. She wrote this article for On Faith.