Friday, February 03, 2012

Komen's Reversal

The Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood (which provided essential breast cancer services to low-income women) has to rank pretty highly on any list of PR disasters for non-profits. Previously, Komen had managed to stake out a leading position in the field of women's health without having politicized itself. That's no mean feat, but it's completely ruined now. Moreover, they apparently thought they could sneak this decision under the radar and thus were caught completely off-guard by the explosion. And the rationale they relied on -- that this was a "non-political" decision prompted by PP being under (politically-motivated) federal investigation -- was transparent non-sense that insulted everyone's intelligence.

Anyway, Komen has now seemingly reversed its decision. Note that this does not undo all the damage -- having stepped into this maelstrom, any decision they take from here on out will be seen as political. And it is notable that Komen's press release is just ambiguous enough that its unclear just how much renewed cooperation between Komen and PP we'll see -- the release simply affirms that current PP grants will be funded and PP can continue to apply for future grants (but obviously, there's no guarantee they'll be accepted). Under normal circumstances the vagueness wouldn't be enough to worry me, but when you shatter your organization's integrity over the space of a week, suddenly you don't get the benefit of the doubt.

One thing that this controversy did demonstrate is that pro-choice forces still can shake the earth when they need to, and they can do so even when they're taking on a (formerly) venerable organization like Susan G. Komen. It's a paradoxical sort of optimism -- being forced to demonstrate that yes, your movement still has bite -- but it is worth noting.

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