When the news broke last week that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation would stop funding cancer screening at Planned Parenthood, the internet ran pink with shock and outrage. Outrageous, absolutely. But shocking?
Much has been made of the fact that the decision came shortly after Karen Handel became Komen’s Senior VP for Policy. Just a glance back at Handel’s unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Georgia takes the surprise out of the Komen decision. What should be shocking, outrageous, and frankly unthinkable is that an organization dedicated to women’s health would choose a leader with a political agenda that undermines that work. Handel “doesn’t support Planned Parenthood’s mission.” Have you read Planned Parenthood’s mission? It has to do with “the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence.”
It is that mission―supporting men and women to make informed choices about their sexuality and reproduction―that is under attack. Last week’s decision by Komen, like the vast majority of the political bullying directed at Planned Parenthood, had nothing to do with abortion. Abortion is the sharp point of the wedge that divides us from the people that ought to be allies; it is the tip of a big, ugly political iceberg. The bulk of the agenda beneath the surface is anti-birth control, anti-sex education, anti-sexual freedom, anti-self-determination, anti-woman, and anti-gay. Whether or not it is explicitly racist and anti-immigrant, it is people of color and immigrants who get hit the hardest.
So Komen quickly reversed its decision in response to the enormous backlash. Good. But I for one hope that it is not so easy to regain support from breast cancer survivors and women’s health advocates. I hope the many thousands of runners and walkers and fundraisers Komen relies on won’t let the foundation retreat into safe, apolitical territory where breast cancer awareness is an uncontroversial brand with a massive pink product line. Because women’s health is political. Cancer is political, and so are toxic chemicals, and the corporations producing them, and those corporations’ money. The collective gut reaction of anger and disgust at the Planned Parenthood decision should remind us to connect the dots between access to health care and sexual freedom and environmental justice and racial justice. And demand that any organization that claims to honor women’s lives does the same.