Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood: Why the Controversy Will Continue

The Komen controversy highlighted the politics of abortion. (Photo: Thinkstock)The Komen controversy highlighted the politics of abortion. (Photo: Thinkstock)The sudden reversal last week by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which decided to restore Planned Parenthood's eligibility to seek grants from the breast-cancer charity after previously cutting them, doesn't actually end the controversy. Instead, the focus has shifted from fundraising and cancer screening to abortion, and the stigma that still goes with it.

"The undercurrent of the face-off was that there are two kinds of women -- good girls, who have breasts that may become infected with cancer, and bad girls, who have sex," Susan Milligan writes at U.S. News and World Report. "The women who have breasts are allowed to be worried about getting a deadly disease, and so are festooned with pink ribbons and given both cash for research and sympathy if they become ill. Women with cancer get to be treated as victims in need of financial and emotional support. The bad women who have sex are treated as though they are getting what they deserve if they become pregnant or get a sexually transmitted disease."

Though Komen insisted that its decision to defund Planned Parenthood wasn't political, the way that pro-life groups lauded it indicates that the politics of abortion and morality did come into play. Over the weekend, it came to light that former Bush press secretary and outspoken conservative Ari Fleischer had helped Komen executives screen candidates for the VP spot that went to anti-abortion advocate Karen Handel, and that Komen's relationship with Planned Parenthood figured prominently in his interviews. And Planned Parenthood's language when it announced the funding cuts last week fanned the flames, equating one intensely personal yet political issue with "women's health" in general.

While Planned Parenthood does not provide mammography services in-house, an analysis published late last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the number of women helped by mammography are lower than most people think, and some medical experts feel that the emphasis should be on prevention and treatment rather than mammography, The New York Times reported. Just as fighing cancer isn't all about a single type of screening, women's health isn't all about abortion, and the statistics on the services actually provided by Planned Parenthood bear that out: 35 percent of the services they provided in 2009 were for sexually transmitted disease screening and treatment, 35 percent were for contraception, 16 percent were for cancer screening and prevention, and just 3 percent were for abortion services.

Being pro-choice is not the same thing as being pro-abortion. In some countries, bring pro-choice means choosing to have and raise your own child. People often hold Tim Tebow as an example of someone who was saved by his mother's pro-life convictions, but the truth is that he's an excellent example of the importance of being pro-choice. His mother contracted amoebic dysentery while she was pregnant with him, and her doctor urged her to abort. She chose not to.

At the height of China's "One Child" policy, that kind of choice was forbidden; horror stories about forced late-term abortions abound. In India in the 1970s, entire communities were targeted by the government for forced sterilization; 40 years later, census data shows that sex-selective abortions are rampant.

"The insult to women -- that if females were forced to think about what they are doing before having an abortion, the exercise would surely make them change their minds -- is overwhelming," Milligan writes. "Women who believe abortion is wrong won't have one. Making it harder for them to get an abortion won't make a difference. Women -- devout Catholics and others -- who don't believe in birth control won't use it. Refusing to cover birth control as basic women's health, or defunding organizations that supply birth control, won't mean anything to those women."

But what will affect women -- especially those who, like 20 percent of women age 18 to 64 in the United States, are uninsured -- is if abortion and contraception are factors in deciding whether or not to fund women's health programs in underserved areas. And that's the controversy that Komen sparked with its decision, and its reversal.

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Also on Shine:

Inside Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to reverse Planned Parenthood funding
Census shows fewer girls being born in India due to sex-selective abortion
Prescription birth control to be covered without a copayment: What that really means for you