Once Again, Women's Health Under Fire

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure debacle hurts everyone.

On Wednesday, after Atherton resident, Dan Rudolph, learned the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation had decided to pull its funding out of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening program, he called Komen’s San Francisco affiliate and told them, “I happily supported you all these years, but I am not sure I can do that anymore.  You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Dan is passionate about women’s health. His mother, Judith, died of breast cancer in 1991. In the years since, Dan Rudolph has done what he could to honor her memory. Year after year he ran in Komen’s Race for the Cure and he has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the organization. In all that time, he has been proud to be considered a major supporter. 

But no more. And Dan is not alone. Across this country, men and women have been outraged by the  political maneuverings of an organization many thought was above the fray. 

If you haven’t seen the headlines, here’s the overview: For reasons that are still more than murky, Komen announced it was severing its ties to the Planned Parenthood Federation and would no longer be offering its financial support, which in 2011 was over $680,000.

The given rationale was spurious.  The decision was very clearly linked to Komen’s deep affiliation with the Republican Party.

The announcement sent shockwaves to those who are committed to women’s health. Within hours, Twitter and Facebook were inundated with anti-Komen comments. Donors, supporters, and survivors made calls and sent e-mails to the organization they once trusted. 

Sally Bemus, wife of Palo Alto Councilmember Pat Burt, sent this e-mail to Komen, 

“As a breast cancer survivor I am deeply saddened by the Susan B. Komen National Foundation's decision to pull funding for breast cancer screening for uninsured women. I am a survivor because I was afforded good medical coverage that resulted in early detection... I hope you will rethink this decision.”

In the end, Sally got her wish. Komen rescinded its decision - at least for now. But the damage has been done.  Komen is now under intense scrutiny. Their giving patterns, their politics, their entire way of doing business, is being called into question. 

Do they pay their executive director hundreds of thousands of dollars each year? Yep. Did they bully other organizations that tried to use “for the cure” in their marketing? It would seem so. Did they spend more money on administrative costs then actual programs? Unclear. But the nagging questions means that the important work of Komen, supporting breast cancer research and raising awareness of this horrible disease, is at risk. 

The good news is, at least, Planned Parenthood is benefitting. After years of being under siege, this fiasco may well help individuals to understand that only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s resources go to providing abortions. The vast majority of its work is focused on providing low-income and uninsured women with the overall health care they can’t get elsewhere.

Most people didn’t even know Planned Parenthood did breast cancer screening, pap smears or HIV tests, or provided vasectomies - yes, even men are their clients. But now, they do.

When word got out about Komen’s actions, donors such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars to the organization, thereby ensuring women of all income levels will continue to have access to breast cancer screenings.

Locally, the news has been good as well. I spoke to Liz Figueroa, vice president of public affairs for the Planned Parenthood Mar Monte affiliate. She said, “The response has been amazing. Donors have been calling, e-mailing, and offering their support.” 

Last year, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (PPMM), whose operating area runs from Bakersfield to Nevada, saw 58,267 patient visits in Silicon Valley alone. Over 80 percent of those patients had no health insurance.  Locally, PPMM conducted 16,462 breast exams, detected 2,342 abnormal screenings and confirmed 46 cases of breast cancer. That means the lives of 46 women from our extended community were saved because they had a place to turn to get the health care they needed. 

These are just the kind of women Dan Rudolph’s mother, Judith, spent her life helping. She was a social worker whose client base was low-income and underprivileged teens. She worked with them to ensure they had access to reproductive health care. If she were alive today and saw how women’s health was under attack, Dan said, “she would be appalled.” 

I know I am. Aren’t you? 

teresa February 06, 2012 at 08:27 PM
If it was'nt for ur mom or my mom none of us would be here today to argue about such a no brainer subject. Selfishnes...shame on you !! Fix this problem
Mark Weiss February 06, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Give some props to Maria Sousa the director of the SF office of Komen, who rallied her seven west coast colleagues to get national to reverse itself. I heard on pubic radio that the instigator of the entire brouhaha is a right-wing failed candidate for Governor of Georgia in the national org -- her sentiment was not widely shared but she was savvy and powerful enough to at least temporarily move her organization in the wrong direction. But democratically -- it still works sometimes -- Sousa et al -- along with people like Ms. Bemus calling in or using social media -- the calmer heads prevailed.


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