Commentary: Planned Parenthood and the Political Struggle Over Women’s Health

Even though the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation reversed its decision to defund Planned Parenthood, there are lessons to be learned about the negative role conservative politics can play in our health.

Posted: 02/03/2012 01:39 PM EST
Planned Parenthood

This morning, officials from the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation, the world's largest network of breast cancer survivors and activists, announced that they are reversing their prior decision of defunding breast screening and breast health education programs for Planned Parenthood. The Associated Press reported that the group apologized and stated, "[We want] to refocus attention on our mission and get back to doing our work."


Planned Parenthood reported Friday that millions of people had stepped up to voice support for their work after the defunding announcement. Donations poured in at a clip that soon compensated for the prospective loss of support, including a $250,000 personal donation from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who strongly endorsed Planned Parenthood’s role in saving lives through cancer screening and other programs. When Komen announced it was reversing course, Planned Parenthood issued a conciliatory statement: “We are enormously grateful that the Komen Foundation has clarified its grant-making criteria, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Komen partners, leaders and volunteers.”


The Komen Foundation’s move comes only two short days after all hell broke loose when the organization announced that they would no longer be shelling out a hefty grant to the national women's health care facility because of a new policy stating that they would no longer fund organizations that were under investigation by the government. Conservative politicians and anti-choice groups claim that Planned Parenthood was illegally using federal money to fund abortions. Planned Parenthood vehemently denies all of these claims.


Reproductive rights advocates believe that something more sinister was at play. They claim that powerful conservative right wing groups opposed the relationship that the Komen Cancer Foundation had with Planned Parenthood and somehow influenced this decision. It's also been reported that over the years there has been a growing number of conservative anti-choice women with connections to the GOP who work in high positions at the foundation. Meanwhile, Komen officials deny that their actions were politically motivated.

I don't know about you, but I find this hard to believe.


And while most of the news coverage about this issue has included voices of white activists who we may not be able to identify with, I want to be very clear: The act of defunding breast cancer screening and education programs is an attack against Black women and our health.


When it comes to breast cancer, while white women are diagnosed with breast cancer more often than Black women, we are more likely to die from breast cancer, develop aggressive forms of breast cancer and develop the disease at a younger age.


Breast cancer is our problem too.


During the past five years, Komen funds have enabled Planned Parenthood health centers to provide nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams and referrals for more than 6,400 mammograms. And while we cannot be completely sure as to how many of those women who benefitted from those programs were Black, we do know that women of color, lower income women and rural women are disproportionately uninsured and that Planned Parenthood is the only place that many of them can turn to for any form of health care, not just reproductive health.

And just think: We were this close to having these programs that have nothing to do with abortions taken away because powerful people have a problem with abortions.


And while for now this seems to have "worked out" in our favor, it's important to point out that this reverse didn't come from a place of caring about women's health, the Komen folks wanted to reverse the PR nightmare they found themselves in. And whether or not you agree with a woman's right to choose, what we know for sure to be problematic is trying to limit access to health care to communities who have a history of not having equal access to begin with.


Conservative politics and ideologies have no business messing with Black women's health. Next time, we might not be so lucky.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.



BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.

(Photo: Planned Parenthood)

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