An open letter to Komen CEO Nancy Brinker

Dear Nancy, We have known each other for a long time and I have admired your work enormously. That is … Continued

Dear Nancy,

We have known each other for a long time and I have admired your work enormously. That is why I, along with so many others, was stunned when your Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation pulled the plug on Planned Parenthood last week.

            No way would the Nancy Brinker I know be involved in something like that. Could this possibly be the Nancy Brinker who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President  Obama in 2009? Could it be the Nancy Brinker who is the Goodwill Ambassador for the World Health Organization, former ambassador to Hungary and former chief of protocol under George W. Bush?

             When you appeared with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC last week to talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, you seemed nervous and defensive.  Your reasons were contradictory and confusing.  At first you said it was because Planned Parenthood was under investigation by Congress. When it turned out that one anti-abortion Republican was investigating the group, you changed your mind. Next you said  that Planned Parenthood referred the mammograms rather than performing them themselves.

            All of this was hard to swallow. It is clear, despite what you told Mitchell, that you were under enormous political pressure — and had been for some years — from conservative donors to cut your ties to Planned Parenthood. This was because some of its money (about 3%) goes to fund abortions. Nevermind that of the $680,000 or so given to Planned Parenthood last year by your organization, not one penny went toward abortion. It was targeted to breast cancer screening for low-income and uninsured women. In the past five years Planned Parenthood has, with your funds, been able to provide 170,000 breast exams and thousands of referrals.

            Surely you must have been shocked by the backlash. But what did you expect?

            Your own top public health official, Mollie Williams quit in protest when she learned of the plan. “I believe it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission,” she told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.

            And now Karen Handel is gone. You should have seen the writing on the wall when you hired  Handel to be your senior vice president for public policy. Handel had run unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia, despite an endorsement from Sarah Palin. In her campaign blog, she wrote: “I will be a pro-life governor who will work tirelessly to promote a culture of life in Georgia… I believe that each and every unborn child has inherent dignity, that every abortion is a tragedy, and that government has a role, along with the faith community, in encouraging women to choose life in even the most difficult circumstances….since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.”

Case closed.

            There is no way that anyone with such strong feelings could stand by and watch an organization where she runs public policy be associated with a group which she believes supports murder.

            It was a wise decision for Handel to quit – whether as a matter of conscience or public pressure.  As long as she was there, you would have had a huge public relations problem. There is nobody who would have believed that Komen is not a political organization.    

            Planned Parenthood is not exactly a left-wing group, Nancy. Among its founders were Arizona Sen. Barry (“Mr. Conservative”) Goldwater and his wife, Peggy. Supporters include those you count as friends including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who reacted immediately to the controversy by offering to match any gift to the organization up to $250,000. Friends and donors poured out of the woodwork and lit up the internet.

            What a terrible mistake to confront Planned Parenthood after all of the great work they have done over the years saving lives of countless women.

 Yes, you say you have reversed your decision and will “continue to fund existing grants” to Planned Parenthood “and preserve their eligibility of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.”

            But that’s hardly reassuring. All that means is that they will be eligible to apply in the future. Is there anyone who can’t apply? 

            Nancy, you have been honored and awarded and feted and celebrated for the work you have done. Just last fall you had your awards dinner at the Kennedy Center partially underwritten by our friend, David Rubenstein, head of the Kennedy Center. It was a major social event in Washington, filled with many of those who are appalled by your recent actions.

            These honors could disappear in a flash if people begin to think that your organization can be pressured, influenced or bought by a small group of people who are politically motivated.

            When Mitchell interviewed you she was visibly upset.

            “I have been very identified as an outspoken supporter and participant in the races over the years,” said Mitchell, “long before I myself ended up being diagnosed with breast cancer…We’ve known each other for a long time. But I come to you today expressing the anger of a lot of people, channeling through them, you see it on Twitter, you see it everywhere.”

            Later Mitchell would say that she was surprised at her own reaction. “I actually didn’t know what I was gong to say. But I was so taken aback by her explanation….” The organization, “ she said, “ had almost been sacrosanct in its non-political outreach.” Mitchell has known you for decades, “but I was confronted by a new situation, and I wanted her to know people felt betrayed.”

            Betrayed. I think that’s the perfect word for how so many people feel. You are going to have to do a lot of work to repair that feeling.

Nancy, you are the face of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. It is up to you, not a PR firm to get out in front and persuade people that this is not a political organization, that Planned Parenthood will continue to get new grants and that your Foundation is single-mindedly devoted to battling breast cancer.

If in fact that is the truth.

         Best,

Sally Quinn

Sally Quinn
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