It all began yesterday when the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced they had decided to drop funding to Planned Parenthood ($600,000 a year, used only for breast cancer screenings) because Planned Parenthood is under investigation by Congress, some of whose members suspect it of illegally using federal funds to perform abortions. We have a new rule about donating to organizations being investigated, the Foundation said. We're just following our rules.
I'm not the only Planned Parenthood supporter out there who thought this was nuts; or the only one wondering, if they were just following the rules, why they hadn't pulled the plug on their $7.5 million dollar grant (for breast cancer research) to Penn State, currently under investigation for ignoring child sexual abuse. Is providing abortions really worse than ignoring pedophilia? What a question.
Now that the Komen Foundation has been bombed out of a position that no one with any sense would have occupied in the first place, I want to consider some of the issues this incident raised. The whole thing is a classic "be careful what you ask for" - one side effect was an absolute avalanche of support for PP, which the Komen folks probably didn't intend. But it made me think.
In a fit of anger, I wrote this on Facebook:
The anti-abortion people essentially state that they would rather allow poor women (the only ones this affects) to die of breast cancer, than give them any opportunity at all to get an abortion, for any reason.This was unfair to the majority of anti-abortion people, of course; that's the trouble with writing, or speaking, in anger. But the Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision appeared to take exactly that position. They said they were stopping funding for cancer screenings because PP was "under investigation" - but Karen Handel, the Komen Vice President for public policy since last January, who is staunchly anti-abortion and who has said that since she is "pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood," is reported (in an article in The Atlantic) to have driven the decision to create the rule about being under investigation, for the specific purpose of defunding PP.
So, which is worse - a woman dying from breast cancer or a fetus being aborted?
The trouble with the abortion issue is that there are two lives involved - and each side of the argument insists that only one of those lives is important. But when you bring breast cancer screening into the equation, in the way the Komen Foundation did, you turn it into a decision on who should die - the mother, or the child. But that's a fool's game, because any child's welfare depends on a living, healthy mother - not one who dies of (or even spends years fighting) breast cancer.
Americans don't like to talk about death. I suspect that our culture feels if we can just be a little more brilliant and inventive, we can make the whole thing go away. But we can't. Sooner or later, all of us will die; the only question is when, and how. That child saved from abortion by defunding evil Planned Parenthood? Will die; the only question is when, and how. The mother with breast cancer? Will die; in her case, the question is, will she die sooner of cancer or later of something else.
I don't know anyone anywhere who thinks abortion is a good idea. It's a last resort tool. The anti-abortion side tends to demonize women who have abortions; I know some women who have had them, and the decision is, always, wrenching. I'm not going to argue either side; those arguments are unwinnable. But I want to point out that against the 3% of its time that Planned Parenthood spends doing abortions, it spends 35% of its time providing contraception, mostly to women who couldn't normally afford it - which has probably prevented more abortions than any right-to-life group in existence.
I'm glad that the Susan G. Komen Foundation has changed its mind. I'm afraid they will find that, even after changing their minds and doing (what I consider) the right thing, they've lost some important credibility. And only time will show what this has done to their donor base. Everyone will now look at them and ask, now what? And that's too bad, because they've done serious good in their day and may still do more. Ms. Handel is still at the Foundation.