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From Canyon To Cove: Loss of trust in Komen fallout

February 09, 2012|By Cindy Frazier

The Susan G. Komen Foundation, which has raised bazillions for breast cancer research nationwide by promoting walks and runs "for the cure," has jumped off a cliff and may not be able to scramble back after it came to light that it suspended $700,000 in grant funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer services and then reversed its decision in the face of public pressure.

Planned Parenthood is under a congressional investigation called by an anti-abortion congressman in Florida, which made it ineligible for Komen funding under brand new rules apparently hammered out after it hired an acknowledged Planned Parenthood-hater, Karen Handel, in a top executive position.

Handel, a prominent Republican who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for governor of Georgia, has since resigned and denies she had a hand in the funding decision — which only serves to raise more questions about who really ordered the cutoff.

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So the message is clear: Any time a right-wing politician calls for an investigation of a group he or she doesn't like that means other groups have to fall in line.

Although initially defending the decision, after the avalanche of negative publicity from Main Street to Capitol Hill, Komen founder Nancy Brinker turned on a dime and by Friday issued an apology and a decision to keep existing grants in place. But there has been no promise to continue providing the funding beyond the current grant cycle.

Supporters of the "pink ribbon" campaign are walking — or running — away from the organization, and Komen has seen resignations among its top staff.

And there's a reason for that.

More than one commenter on Orange County/San Bernardino Planned Parenthood's Facebook page said it: "Trust has been broken and it will take time to restore it — if it can ever be."

The Komen organization has been around since 1982, but the fight for women's reproductive rights hails back to the early 1960s (actually earlier than that but we're talking about recent memory here). A lot of women fought hard and long just to get the medical establishment to recognize that women have the right to control their bodies — including when to have children, or not to.

No one would ever whisper that the fight against breast cancer — which, by the way, kills men as well as women and is therefore not a "pink" disease despite the Komen pink ribbons — is a fight that should be abandoned.

Not so the fight for women's reproductive rights.

These are emotional, private issues that have become public lightning rods and political haymakers for those who can capitalize on them.

Fortunately, it seems that Komen's decision utterly backfired. Instead of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding, the firestorm that erupted after the announcement ended up netting Planned Parenthood a cool $3 million for breast cancer services, far exceeding the grant from Komen.

Planned Parenthood has weathered many a storm in the pro-or-no-choice fight, and has earned that trust. Komen, unfortunately, has squandered it. And it happened so fast, one can practically hear Brinker's coiffed head spinning.

CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 302-1469 or cindy.frazier@latimes.com.

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