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Editorial: Komen fund wound was self-inflicted

Updated: March 4, 2012 8:12AM

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation sure blundered into this one.

In an apparent attempt to extract itself from America’s nasty abortion wars, the world’s largest breast cancer organization achieved precisely the opposite: It put itself smack in the middle.

The decision to cut off funding for breast cancer screening for poor women at Planned Parenthood health centers has split loyal Komen supporters into two camps, splintering a powerful and effective organization that has done tremendous good for more than three decades.

For the sake of women suffering from breast cancer, we urge Komen to do all it can to repair the damage, including reinstating these life-saving grant dollars.

The blundering began with Komen’s decision to stop funding for breast cancer screening and other breast-health services at 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates, a change that became public earlier this week, setting off ferocious condemnations from pro-choice women as well as hearty cheers from America’s anti-abortion wing.

The decision strips Planned Parenthood of about $700,000 a year that it used to offer clinical breast screening for low-income women. Komen said Planned Parenthood lost its funding after the breast cancer group overhauled its grant process, part of an effort to improve services. Under the new rules, no organization under investigation by the government is eligible for a grant. In September, a conservative Republican congressman from Florida launched an investigation of Planned Parenthood, a probe urged on by anti-abortion groups.

We question the merits of the policy — why not wait until Congress finishes its work before meting out punishment? — and worry it will encourage witch hunts.

We also reject the notion, asserted by Komen, that the hand of politics isn’t at work here.

For years, anti-abortion groups have been after Komen to drop Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions. In our view, there is a clear separation between the breast cancer screening done by Planned Parenthood and its other work. Abortions, it should be noted, represent a mere 3 percent of all services offered.

But we know that many in the anti-abortion community see it differently, and Komen surely knew this and was aware of how a decision to sever ties with Planned Parenthood would be perceived.

We have sympathy for Komen. The foundation is in a painfully unenviable position, desperately trying to find a middle ground.

But Komen lost its footing here, making a loaded decision that leaves the strong impression it is siding with, or at least caving to, the demands of anti-abortion forces. The reaction speaks for itself.

Since the news broke, Planned Parenthood has received donations totaling more than $900,000 to support the organization and to continue breast screenings. More than 120,000 people have signed an open letter in support of Planned Parenthood.

This move does not take Komen out of the abortion wars, as it likely hoped. It doesn’t help prove that its grant making is “not about politics,” as the organization argues.

Instead, Komen has put itself in the middle of the abortion debate, splitting its loyal supporters and distracting from its vital work of battling breast cancer.

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