Aligning health issues with political grievances

Kayla Oliver

Amid a Republican-led federal investigation into Planned Parenthood, earlier this month Susan G. Komen for the Cure — the nation’s largest private breast cancer research group — pulled its funding from Planned Parenthood according to a new company policy that prohibits the foundation from donating to groups under investigation. The ensuing media firestorm prompted the reinstatement of funding a few days later and the resignation of Karen Handel, Komen’s senior vice president for public policy and the obstinately conservative former Georgia gubernatorial candidate.

The top executives in the two organizations represent and promote polarized political views. CBS reports that, according to Handel, the conservative-led Komen has debated its stance on Planned Parenthood for two years. Komen officials were uneasy after some Roman Catholic groups urged their members to stop donating to Komen due to its support of Planned Parenthood, Handel told CBS.

Clearly, breast cancer screenings are not the issue here. It seems that no matter how many devastating illnesses and cancer-related deaths that Planned Parenthood prevents, religiously motivated conservatives will vilify the group as long as it continues to perform even a single abortion. It also appears that Komen, though highly commendable and crucial in the fight against breast cancer, will continue to pander to such forces. The ideological battle rages on, as pundits and activists paint both groups as wild caricatures with little or no regard to the truth.

Certainly, Planned Parenthood doesn’t skirt the abortion issue. In fact, its annual report to donors boasts that the nonprofit women’s and reproductive health organization prevents more than half a million unwanted pregnancies each year. About half of its total patients are women ages 18 to 25. You do the math. Uncomfortable though it may be to admit, the statistics demonstrate that Planned Parenthood has performed plenty of abortions for college students over the years.

Seemingly stupefied by the A-word, many across the political spectrum forget that Planned Parenthood provides comprehensive women’s and reproductive health services. Long a champion of women’s rights and responsible sexual education, the organization is hardly the relentless engine of murder that some pro-life activists claim that it is. Despite Planned Parenthood’s reputation as the single largest provider of legal abortions in America, abortions account for only 3 percent of the services that it provides. The vast majority of patients come for STD testing and prevention and contraception, with about 15 percent of its services going to cancer screening and prevention.

However, Planned Parenthood and its supporters should remember that Komen has no obligation to donate to any specific group. If the abortion stigma surrounding Planned Parenthood is too strong for Komen to stomach, it reserves the right to place its funding elsewhere.

Conversely, Komen’s supporters should not vilify Planned Parenthood for a single one of the services it provides. If Komen’s true mission is to prevent and cure breast cancer, perhaps Planned Parenthood, which performs almost 1 million breast cancer screenings every year, is a good candidate for donations. Certainly, the top Komen executives lean toward the right, and Planned Parenthood leaders sway leftward, but both organizations and their supporters should make stronger efforts to separate political agendas from women’s health. To equate the two concerns undermines the gravity and urgency of real health issues, such as breast cancer, by aligning them with mundane political grievances.

Oliver is an English and sociology freshman.