Friday, February 03, 2012

The Tragedy of the Komen Foundation

Public health has taken another blow.  They say these things come in threes.  We have leading conservative presidential candidates telling people that vaccines cause autism.  A conservative senator in Tennessee just told his constituents that it is "virtually impossible" to spread HIV through heterosexual contact.  And now, we are politicizing the screening and treatment of breast cancer.  I can't stop thinking about the cultural damage here.  Has anyone else considered what we just lost as a nation?  We disagree on just about everything these days. The notion that breast cancer is a disease worth fighting is one of the few remaining things everybody could agree on.  That has now been destroyed; and for what? At the end of the day, this was over $700,000 dollars. To destroy such a cherished and unitary cultural icon for such a petty trifle, for such a cheap political victory.  It must take an exceptionally vindictive person to want to make that trade.

At any rate, this was an unforced error of staggering proportions on the part of the Komen Foundation itself. Before this story broke, I suspect that very few people knew that Komen gave money to Planned Parenthood. Even if people knew Komen was providing breast cancer care at Planned Parenthood clinics, what kind of person would possibly care? One would think self-interest alone would have led Komen to stay out of this debate.  Now that they have taken sides, its probably too late. If they stand firm and abandon low-income women, they will alienate at least the 75% of Americans who support abortion rights in some form or another.  Arguably they will lose more than that, since obviously not everyone who is anti-choice thinks depriving poor women of breast cancer screening is worth a political point. Alternatively, Komen could do the right thing and reverse course. In doing so they would become a perpetual target for religious bullies who are always looking for another battle to fight.  Either way, what used to be a non-controversial, unitary force, the fight against breast cancer, will be reduced into another yearly battle in our incessant culture wars.

I do think there is a way out.  Komen needs to stand with low-income women and support breast cancer services, and provide concrete data that show that donors' money is being used only for breast services.  Conservative women should stand with them when they do - because they should recognize that this isn't worth it, and that there are better and less destructive venues in which to have the abortion fight.  People should remember why they supported the Komen Foundation in the first place and leave politics aside for once.

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