"Susan Komen would not give in to bullies or to fear. Too bad the foundation bearing her name did," tweeted Judy Blume, proving she continues to be a talented communicator even when she's constrained to 140 characters. In those two sentences, Blume captured what's at the heart of the charity's decision to abruptly pull funding for breast cancer screenings from their longtime partner Planned Parenthood. They gave into a bully—the radical right, which is continuing its assault on women's health and its obsessive crusade to destroy Planned Parenthood.
[Updated: In a statement Friday morning, the Komen Foundation reversed its decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood.]
[Updated: On Tuesday morning, Komen Vice-President for Public Policy Karen Hadel announced her resignation.]
The good news is that a wide array of allies who care about women's health are not giving in with them, as has been clear by the uproar that immediately followed the foundation's announcement. From the press releases of health advocates talking about the important role of Planned Parenthood, to netroots activists charting the relentless attacks on the organization, to Mayor Bloomberg, who donated a quarter-million dollars to the beleaguered healthcare providers, supporters are stepping forward quickly and loudly.
This is of the utmost importance to the countless women who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings and other services. Many of these women turn to the clinics as their only affordable and accessible avenue of care.
But it's also important to every person who cares about women's rights and women's health—because this fight isn't only about where Susan G. Komen for the Cure invests its capital. Social conservatives want to end Planned Parenthood. And Planned Parenthood needs its allies on countless fronts.
From the defunding battle in last year's budget to stricter rules governing clinics in many states, Planned Parenthood knows it has enemies. This is nothing new. As Jill Lepore recounted recently in the New Yorker, Planned Parenthood has been under attack since Margaret Sanger opened its first clinic nearly a century ago.
The attacks these days are just as ugly and as ignorant—from Senator Kyl's claim that 90 percent of the organization's work is providing abortions (a statement he amended to say he didn't mean it as a fact) to the efforts of right-wing gotcha guerillas to discredit Planned Parenthood as they did with ACORN. Before becoming a conservative target, ACORN helped organize and empower low-income Americans and had been the largest source of voter registration among those communities. After the assault, they ceased to exist.
In the ACORN case, too many of its allies were slow to come to its defense, timid in their push-back and too willing to believe reason would prevail. They were surprised just how quickly reason failed, and how totally an organization doing important national work was dismantled.
Maybe Planned Parenthood's allies learned from that example and were quicker and louder to the defense. Or maybe Planned Parenthood just has more influential allies. Despite Kyl's claim, many women know the organization for their range of services, and an astonishing number have used the network of clinics for basic care, especially as young women. A year ago, I suggested this "war on women" would lead to a backlash against the right-wing which fundamentally misunderstands the role Planned Parenthood plays in America.
While they failed to defund Planned Parenthood in Congress, the bullies of the radical right are finding new avenues, and have turned an internationally-lauded foundation into a pawn. Whatever the Susan G. Komen foundation decides, at least Planned Parenthood's allies are making clear they are going to stand up to bullies—good news for the organization and for the large number of our fellow Americans it serves each year.