Is Komen’s Planned Parenthood Reversal For Real?

Though Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced a reversal of its decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, the language of the statement suggests the foundation could still refuse to fund the women’s health care provider in the future.After a two-day hailstorm of criticism — during which Planned Parenthood raised $3 million, according to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America — Komen announced on Friday that it would abandon a plan to cut off grant funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood. “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives,” Komen said in a statement.

“The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen,” the statement said. “We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.”

The statement amounted to a pretty unequivocal reversal of the explanation for the cuts Komen had given earlier in the week. At first, Komen cited a policy to cut funding for any organization under investigation by federal, state or local authorities. Since Planned Parenthood is currently under congressional investigation by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Komen said, they decided to terminate the grants.

This explanation didn’t hold much water. For one thing, as Mother Jones pointed out, Komen didn’t make any similar announcements about its $7.5 million in funding for cancer research at Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, seeing as Penn State is currently under federal investigation in connection with the alleged sexual abuse scandal by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

For another, Karen Handel, Komen’s new senior vice president for public policy, is on the record as opposing Planned Parenthood, and ran for Governor of Georgia in 2010 as a Republican. This sparked a report in the Atlantic from sources within Komen that Handel was behind the decision, and that Komen was was looking for an excuse to cut off Planned Parenthood.

In the latest statement, Komen said it would amend its policy so “that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political,” which excludes what Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Friday referred to as the “sham” investigation by Stearns.

Despite this backtrack, one part of the statement still provides some uncertainty about the future relationship between Komen and Planned Parenthood. Though Komen said it won’t cut current grants to Planned Parenthood and will still preserve Planned Parenthood’s eligibility to apply for future grants, the statement does not say it will necessarily grant them.

“We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities,” the statement said.

And Komen board member John Raffaelli indicated to Greg Sargent of the Washington Post that nothing is certain about the future relationship. “It would be highly unfair to ask us to commit to any organization that doesn’t go through a grant process that shows that the money we raise is used to carry out our mission,” Raffaelli said. “We’re a humanitarian organization. We have a mission. Tell me you can help carry out our mission and we will sit down at the table.”

But, Raffaelli asked Sargent, “Is it really unclear that we’re changing the policy to address criticism?”

Indeed, in a statement today criticizing the decision, the social conservative group the Family Research Council picked up on that part of Komen’s statement: “The Komen statement released today doesn’t promise new funding for Planned Parenthood but does make future funding an open question,” the FRC said.

Despite all this, perhaps for obvious reasons, Planned Parenthood and its supporters are touting Komen’s announcement as a clear cut victory. In a call with reporters, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards called Komen’s statement “very clear.”

“I think its a really good sign that they’re focused on the mission, our joint mission, and I really take them at their word that this is behind us,” Richards said.

Richards said at the time that she had not yet spoken with anyone at Komen — she put in a call after reading the news of the reversal on the Internet — but that she takes them at their word that Planned Parenthood’s grant funding will not be cut in the future.

“It seems that they have definitely changed their grant-making policies now so that Planned Parenthood is eligible to work with them and work with their local affiliates, and that’s really what we have been asking for,” Richards said.

“It’s certainly my hope and belief that we’ll be partners again in the work we’ve been doing,” she added.

The president of EMILY’s List, Stephanie Schriock, had a similar take, and told TPM that this is just part of the “constant battle” with the conservative right over women’s health issues, especially since Republicans took over the House. Komen “made a decision today to right a very terrible wrong that they made 48 hours ago, but this is not over,” Schriock said. Though she would not comment about whether EMILY’s List and its supporters trust Komen to uphold the relationship, Schriock said that as far as supporters go, “they are going to remain vigilant to ensure that women all over this country have access to health care.”

In statements today, Komen’s critics in Congress were also straightforward in their praise for the decision.”The Komen Foundation is too critical to the fight against breast cancer to give up on, and I hope to see all women’s health groups put politics aside and again work together on their shared missions,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “I am pleased that critical funding will be allowed to flow from the Komen Foundation to Planned Parenthood and to any organization that helps further the fight against breast cancer.”

“This is a huge win for women in communities across the country who will now be able to get the breast cancer screenings they count on through Planned Parenthood,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said in a statement.

Sen. Boxer called Komen’s previous explanations for cutting the funding “trumped up” and “gobbledegook,” saying it was clearly the result of political pressure from the right. But when MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Boxer if this was just a stalling tactic to get past a public relations nightmare, Boxer was emphatic: “I think it’s a reversal and I’m very happy. And I think what happened today is that women’s health triumphed over right-wing politics.”

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) also praised the announcement: “I am pleased to see that the Komen foundation responded to public calls to reverse their decision on Planned Parenthood. I don’t think Komen knew what they were up against when they decided to cut funding for breast cancer screening at the health centers that provide care to low income and uninsured women across the country.”

Komen did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Additional reporting by David Taintor.