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As officials of the world’s largest breast cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, struggle to explain their decision to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood, the organization most likely will lose its many entertainment industry supporters.
“Who would want to stay with them?” said Hollywood activist Peg Yorkin, chair and co-founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “What they’ve done is incredibly dumb.”
Since its founding in 1980, the Dallas-based philanthropy, which has virtually appropriated the color pink as its trademark, has raised nearly $2 billion to fight breast cancer. Along the way, Komen gathered tremendous support in Hollywood, with stars ranging from Ellen DeGeneres to Cynthia Nixon listed as backers.
Up until now, it has annually given about $700,000 to Planned Parenthood so that organization could provide poor women with breast cancer screening, mammograms and education. But that ended this week. Komen foundation officials have given a variety of explanations for their decision to halt grants—ranging from an ongoing congressional probe into Planned Parenthood’s use of federal funds to assertions that the organization’s programs no longer “meet our standards.”
It’s well known, though, that the Komen foundation, which has chapters in more than 100 cities across the country, has come under increasing pressure from anti-abortion activists to sever its ties to Planned Parenthood. Even though Planned Parenthood already is proscribed from using public funds to support abortion services, defunding the organization at the federal level has become a kind of Holy Grail for congressional opponents of reproductive rights.
Pro-choice groups charged this week that Komen is undergoing a rightward political shift. They note that the foundation’s founder, Nancy Brinker served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Hungary and Chief of Protocol. Last year, she appointed Georgia’s former Republican secretary of state, Karen Handel to a senior policy post in the foundation. In 2010, Handel ran for governor of Georgia on a platform that explicitly called for defunding Planned Parenthood.
On Thursday, the band The Decemberists, which had been donating proceeds from the sale of its “Team Jenny” t-shirt to Komen, said it would no longer be supporting the group in the wake of its Planned Parenthood decision.
“The Decemberists are deeply troubled by Komen for the Cure’s recent decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, a vital resource in the battle against breast cancer,” according to a statement posted on the band’s website. “Providing cancer screenings to low income women is integral to the prevention and defeat of breast cancer and it is unconscionable that Komen should politicize this very important issue by bowing to the fear campaign being waged against PP by the right.
“We’ve decided to redirect the proceeds of the Team Jenny t-shirts and buttons away from Komen for the Cure. 100% of the net profits of these items will be instead donated to Planned Parenthood’s Breast Health Emergency Fund.”
Actress Ellen Barkin expressed her outrage on Twitter. “Anti-choice right wing extremist women showing their true colors…and it’s certainly NOT pink,” she wrote.
Other celebrities urging support for Planned Parenthood included Roseanne Barr, John Legend, Dana Delany and Lance Armstrong.
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization of Women, charged that Brinker “is overseeing a fundamental transformation of her organization. It has become a political organization. It is no longer an organization whose mission is to advance women’s health.”
New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, has donated a $250,000 matching grant to assist Planned Parenthood in replacing the lost funding. More than 20 Democratic senators signed a letter to Brinker that said, in part, “It would be tragic if any woman, let alone thousands of women, lost access to these potentially life-saving screenings because of a politically motivated attack.”
With this sort of contention as backdrop, the Komen foundation’s wide range of celebrity supporters is likely simply to melt away. Some will make statements supporting Planned Parenthood on the way out, but most—leery of appearing insensitive to women with breast cancer—will just quietly sever their ties to the group. Reproductive rights are not a debatable issue in Hollywood. It’s a town where even the Republicans are pro-choice.
“I’m glad for Planned Parenthood,” Yorkin said. “People who were saying “I’ll give to Planned Parenthood eventually’ will finally do it. Maybe something good will come out of this.”
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