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Race for the PR cure

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure debacle reveals cracks in the facade of the Dallas-based charity

Photo: Dawn Schreiner, License: N/A

Dawn Schreiner

Photo: Dawn Schreiner, License: N/A

Dawn Schreiner

Women and men marched with their fingers earlier this month in one of the most stunning examples of the power of social networking since Facebook and Twitter were invented. On Jan. 31, the Associated Press reported that Planned Parenthood would no longer be eligible to apply for grants from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation because Planned Parenthood was under “investigation” by a Congressional committee trying to determine if it used any federal funds to provide abortions for poor women.

Overnight, a firestorm of protest sprang up, led primarily by women on social networks, with reactions like that from Aracely Chavez of Fort Worth, Texas, a Planned Parenthood volunteer who warned that “Not one penny more for Komen [will come] from me.”

Several top Komen officials resigned in protest. And Planned Parenthood raised $3 million in donations from outraged supporters, many of whom were also longtime Komen volunteers and financial supporters.

Three days later, Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of the Dallas-based breast cancer charity, humbly announced it was rescinding its decision and would again consider providing grants to Planned Parenthood for its breast cancer-related work.

The genie won’t be put back in the bottle so easily – or perhaps ever. For local chapters of both organizations, working relationships seem likely to continue, despite the intense feelings.

“One thing I want our supporters to know: We affiliates had no input into this decision [to defund Planned Parenthood],” says Ann Greenhill, executive director of Greater Fort Worth Komen Race for the Cure. “We were as surprised as everyone else,” she says, and she called the national organization “naïve” for not foreseeing the backlash.

But nationally, the Komen decision, and the aftermath that continues to unfold, could change Komen and the larger fight against breast cancer irrevocably.

Komen, a savvy and influential nonprofit founded 30 years ago by Dallas native Brinker after her sister died of breast cancer, has done more to make “breast cancer awareness” a household phrase through the power of the color pink than any other cancer-fighting group. It has saved countless lives by bringing breast cancer out of the shadows and into the public conversation and by providing funding for research and breast screenings, the latter often through its partnerships with local Planned Parenthood clinics.

But now the solid pink line seems to have been broken. Critics have come forward to complain about the organization’s close ties to powerful, often polluting corporations, its past role in working against health initiatives that many believe would help women, and the extent to which right-wing politics holds sway within the organization.

Not surprisingly, there’s also a second backlash – among abortion opponents who apparently thought Komen was on their side.

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