Why Did Susan G. Komen Pull the Plug on Planned Parenthood?
My colleague Jeffrey Goldberg has done some reporting on the Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to cut off Planned Parenthood because the organization was under congressional investigation. According to his sources, that was a pretext--the new rule was passed specifically in order to give the foundation a cover for cutting off Planned Parenthood.
Komen, the marketing juggernaut that brought the world the ubiquitous pink ribbon campaign, says it cut-off Planned Parenthood because of a newly adopted foundation rule prohibiting it from funding any group that is under formal investigation by a government body. (Planned Parenthood is being investigated by Rep. Cliff Stearns, an anti-abortion Florida Republican, who says he is trying to learn if the group spent public money to provide abortions.)
But three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut-off Planned Parenthood. (Komen gives out grants to roughly 2,000 organizations, and the new "no-investigations" rule applies to only one so far.) The decision to create a rule that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to these sources, was driven by the organization's new senior vice-president for public policy, Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who is staunchly anti-abortion and who has said that since she is "pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."
Goldberg clearly disapproves of the decision. Though I'm pro-choice, I don't share the outrage that was roiling my Twitter feed this morning. It is, as Josh Barro noted, absurd to pretend that abortion is somehow incidental to Planned Parenthood's services, and since money is fungible, giving them money is probably helping to fund abortion provision. Since I think this is a very tough issue on which reasonable people can disagree, I can see why the federal government, and private foundations, would decline to fund their operations.
Nor do I think that this is somehow fatal--indeed, the news of the Komen foundation's funding withdrawal was met by an outpouring of donations that, as of this writing, has nearly replaced the lost funds. And I don't think that's an accident. If Planned Parenthood didn't provide abortions--if it had decided, post-Roe, to continue doing all the contraception provision and pelvic exams, but to stay out of the abortion side of the business--many of the people who now send them large checks probably wouldn't bother. I'd guess that a considerable portion of their donor base is making an expressive commitment to abortion rights, but of course, the flip side of that is people who make an expressive decision not to give them money.
I do wonder what this moment means in terms of the political landscape. It's possible that this new VP has single-handedly pushed this organization to discontinue their funding, but someone hired her knowing that she was pro-life, and ultimately it was the board that voted to do this, so presumably it must have some support beyond one former gubernatorial candidate.
This strikes me as significant. Susan G. Komen is part of the broad constellation of "women's groups" that tend to hand together on various issues, including (maybe especially) abortion. Why would they cut ties to a group that in past decades would have been a natural ally?
I'm tempted to credit shifting public opinion, but polling about abortion has been pretty stable over the last 15 years. It could be a shift in the donor base, or the board itself. Or perhaps it's a more subtle shift in opinion. While most people think that abortion should be legal, most people don't support the current state of abortion law; polling seems to suggest that the majority either wants abortion to be illegal in all cases, or legal only in the first trimester--and even then, possibly only in the case of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. A majority of people polled say that abortion is morally wrong. And pro-life identification runs neck-in-neck with pro choice.
In that environment, you can see why an organization that does not itself have a mission to support abortion access would want to pull back from funding Planned Parenthood, even for related services. Unfortunately, while they easily could have declined to fund PP without much backlash, de-funding them sends an extremely explicit message that is probably going to cost them significant public support. Which is a pity, because early detection and treatment of breast cancer is a mission that we should all be able to agree on.