POLITICS OF BREAST CANCER
GAIL COLLINS| NYT NEWS SERVICE THIS week we had a huge political fight about breast cancer. Clearly, we have now hit the point where there’s nothing that can’t be divided into red-state-blue-state.
Nothing. The other day I saw a blog called ‘I Dig My Garden’ that had a forum on whether Republicans could truly love gardening.
And there was a little dustup in Albany over politicization of a local pet blog, which had featured a discussion on Mitt Romney’s driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car.
But breast cancer would seem like the last thing to go. Everybody hates cancer and everybody likes breasts infants, adults, women, men. Really, it’s America’s most popular body part.
The Susan G Komen for the Cure foundation has made its fight against breast cancer into one of the most successful charitable enterprises in recent history, partly because it makes everybody feel good and helps corporate sponsors create good will. It’s raised about $2 billion over the years. This is the group that brought us the pink ribbons and pink umbrellas and pink beauty products, and ‘Buckets for the Cure,’ a rather controversial promotion it undertook with that well-known purveyor of healthy eating choices, Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Breast cancer tends to get a disproportionate share of health care financing, and Komen’s enormous success tilts things still further.
(The foundation spends a good deal of time and money tracking down smaller anticancer organisations and demanding that they cease and desist from using the words ‘for the cure’ or using the colour pink.) Critics also suggest that Komen is way too fixated on mammograms, which are a good tool, but are hardly the be-all-and-end-all of cancer prevention. On the other hand, Komen does financially support much-needed grass-roots programs like Planned Parenthood’s medical exams for mostly young, lower-income women.
So imagine our surprise when Komen announced that it wouldn’t be giving any more grants to Planned Parenthood because of a new policy of not supporting groups that are ‘under investigation.’ The investigation in question is being run by a Republican congressman from Florida who wants to determine whether Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer money to pay for abortions. Which it doesn’t, as a matter of longstanding policy. But the congressman wants to see a very large quantity of documents so he can be absolutely, positively, really, really sure.
Then came the mega-outcry.
Although average Americans are divided rather evenly on the issue of abortion, feelings about Planned Parenthood providing doctors to examine the breasts of low-income women are not really all that mixed.
When all hell broke loose, Komen’s chief executive, Nancy Brinker, dropped the story about investigations and announced that the real reason for the switch in policy was an effort to avoid ‘duplicative grants’ by eliminating health care providers who don’t actually perform mammograms themselves.
Planned Parenthood provides the medical exams, and if a doctor finds something worrisome, the patients are sent off to a radiologist to be tested. This is exactly the same way things work in medical offices throughout the land.
On Friday, the Komen people backed down, and apologised to the entire world. Really, if you call them up, they would probably apologise to you, too. Brinker said the new under-investigation policy would now cover only criminal investigations.
The ‘duplicative grants’ policy appears to have vanished from the face of the earth.
The Planned Parenthood folk declared themselves satisfied with the result. Given the fact that money had been pouring in ever since Komen made its first announcement, they actually seemed kind of euphoric.
“It’s restored everybody’s faith in the basic goodness of people,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood.
Nobody really knows whether future grants from Komen will be forthcoming. Despite all its protests to the contrary, the foundation was pretty clearly playing to the antiabortion crowd. Until now, hardly anyone had noticed that Brinker, a longtime Republican donor who once served as ambassador to Hungary during the George W Bush administration, had recently named a former pro-life candidate for governor of Georgia, Karen Handel, as the foundation’s senior vice president for public policy.
Perhaps this is all coincidence, but, in light of the last week, you’d have to say: nah.
A lot of the old Komen donors and supporters probably won’t be coming back. It would be a shame if they just retreated in disillusionment.
Let’s hope they go off into the wider world of women’s health care programs and help spread the wealth. That really would be a happy ending.Also, Republicans definitely do like gardening. But feel free to talk as much as you want about Mitt Romney and the dog.