The Huffington Post reports that several officers of the Susan B. Komen Foundation have resigned in the wake of what can only be described as the debacle of that organization’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood.
When the Foundation decided to play abortion politics at the expense of poor women who depend upon Planned Parenthood for their annual breast exams, it set off a reaction of epic proportions–not to mention a level of scrutiny that the organization had formerly escaped. Questions were raised about the outsized executive salaries, the organization’s habit of suing other nonprofits that had the temerity to use the color pink or the term “cure” in their own efforts, and the percentage of overall funding that found its way to actual breast cancer research. According to the Huffington story, fundraising is down, morale is low, and management is in disarray.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from this exercise in self-destruction, but I think the most hopeful sign has little to do with the Komen Foundation and a lot to do with Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood has been the object of unremitting attack by the Right for many years now. Those of us who are older can remember when Planned Parenthood boards drew their members from civic leaders of both political parties; indeed, George H.W. Bush served on the national board until he decided to accept the nomination for Vice-President. The organization was not particularly controversial, because it was understood to be in the business of providing health care and family planning to women who needed those services but lacked the resources to access them.
The abortion wars and the rise of an extremist Right Wing willing to play dirty undermined the formerly widespread recognition of the importance of Planned Parenthood.
Despite the fact that abortion never exceeded 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services, despite the fact that no tax dollars were used for abortion services, and despite the fact that economic pressures made the organization’s provision of women’s health services more critically important than ever, Planned Parenthood’s reputation took a real hit–the result of unremitting attacks and dishonest characterizations.
The response to Komen’s clumsy effort to further de-legitimize Planned Parenthood may have marked a turning point.
When the “abortion wars” were seen as genuinely limited to the question of abortion, most women–even the most pro-choice among us–could recognize and respect the deep moral ambivalence many people feel about the issue. But recent political assaults have torn the mask off of much of the “pro-life” movement, displaying a profoundly anti-woman agenda. It is one thing to oppose abortion; it is quite another to attack women’s right to contraception and reproductive health as a violation of the religious prerogatives of those whose theologies subordinate women.
Women are waking up to the very real threat to our hard-won equal rights. In the process, we are recognizing the attacks on Planned Parenthood for what they really are–attacks on us.
Let’s hope that the people perpetrating those attacks–the Rick Santorum’s and the Eric Miller’s and their ilk–learn what the Komen Foundation has learned: be careful who you piss off. Because–as the saying goes–if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.