After setting off a firestorm by threatening to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen For the Cure — the nation’s largest breast-cancer advocacy agency — backtracked and promised to amend the criteria. “We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants,” Nancy G. Brinker said. “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.” According to Brinker, the decision was not “done for political reasons, or specifically to penalize Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards expressed gratitude and said her agency could resume longstanding relations with Komen and that she anticipated continuing to receive ongoing funding. “I really take them at their word that this is behind us,” according to Richards. She gave credit to an outpouring of support, especially on social media sites, with forcing the reversal. In just three days, Planned Parenthood raised $3 million and acquired 10,000 new Facebook supporters, Richards said.
Komen executives insisted that their decision was not compelled by pressure from anti-abortion groups. Planned Parenthood said its national network of health centers performed more than four million breast exams over the last five years, including nearly 170,000 paid for by Komen grants. The grants totaled $680,000 in 2011. As the controversy developed, Planned Parenthood received $400,000 in smaller donations from 6,000 people, as well as a $250,000 pledge from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to match future donations. Komen was flooded with negative emails and Facebook posts, accusing it of bowing to pressure from anti-abortion groups.
Although the dispute between the two sides appears to have reached an amicable solution, the debate continued as Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life Committee, said Komen’s decision to reverse its decision will almost certainly cost the group contributions. “I think right now pro-lifers are going to be reluctant to support them because the money may go to the country’s largest abortion provider,” Tobias said.
According to Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates, a reputation management firm, Komen will have to “build up trust” following the commotion. Komen was the world’s most valuable non-profit brand, according to a 2010 report by market-research firm Harris Interactive. Now, the Komen brand could become a subject for political debate, Paul said. “People wanted to be associated with every single thing they did,” he said. “And now we hear politics and policy has influence. The same affinity people had on the positive side became the same affinity they’ve having on the negative perspective,” he said.
“Politics should never come between women and their healthcare, and I am very glad that Komen did the right thing and reversed their misguided and deeply damaging decision,” Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), said. Taking an opposite position was Senator David Vitter (R-LA), who originally applauded the move. Commenting on Friday’s announcement, Vitter said that “While Komen now claims that they don’t want their mission to be ‘marred by politics,’ unfortunately it seems that Komen caved to political pressure from the pro-abortion movement and its enforcers in the media.”
The backlash is still adversely affecting the Susan G. Komen organization. Many long-time donors, irked by the foundation’s decision to pull their funding from Planned Parenthood, have said they’ll no longer give to the organization. Others, disappointed that the decision was reversed, also will no longer provide financial support. Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, is optimistic that the foundation will eventually recover. “They changed their mind pretty quickly, and so they’re going to be able to make a recovery here,” Berman said. “Susan G. Komen will have to tell the story of how many women they reach, how many women get access to care, how many women participate in their events, how much research they’re funding. They’ll just have to continue to tell that story clearly and concisely,” according to Berman.
Writing in Forbes, contributor Davia Temin says that “In one of the more bizarre series of actions I have ever witnessed, Susan G. Komen for the Cure completely compromised its sterling reputation by first caving in to one set of political pressures, and then another. And in the process, they left us all wondering who these people really are, and what they stand for.”
“Although, in their somewhat grudging apology requesting that ‘everyone who has participated in this conversation…help us move past this issue,’ they clearly want to put the past week behind them, it will never happen. At least not for a good, long time. I bet the folks at Komen wish they could have a do-over. Or that in true Groundhog Day movie fashion, they could replay the week over and over again until they got it right. Reputational suicide is not too extreme to call it. Because no one is happy with them now. And the questioning from all sides will continue, and spill over to their every action. On this one, I predict our memories will be long.”