In a shocking move Tuesday afternoon, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the country’s most famous breast cancer charity, pulled its grants for breast-cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood. Komen claims that their reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation from Congress, but as it’s well-understood on both the left and the right that the investigation, headed by Rep. Cliff Stearns, is a nuisance investigation that will almost surely turn up nothing, this excuse sounds lame indeed. The likelier explanation is the one offered by Planned Parenthood, that Komen caved under relentless pressure from anti-choice activists who oppose Planned Parenthood for offering abortions as well as low-cost contraception and STD prevention and treatment. In addition, Komen has a history of not playing nice with other women’s health organizations. Planned Parenthood has created an emergency fund to replace the Komen grants, to keep the breast-cancer screening service from being interrupted.
The existence of breast-cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood has always been a thorn in the anti-choice side. Most of Planned Parenthood’s services are related to the choice to be sexually active—contraception, STD screening and treatment, cervical cancer screening—making it easy to write off those services as unnecessary if you follow the strict abstinence-only prescription the Christian right has for women. Breast cancer, however, can strike the lifelong virgin, the married woman who only has sex for procreation, and the dirty fornicator (i.e. the vast majority of American women) alike. Because of this, anti-choicers have tried to create a rift between women’s health advocates who focus on breast cancer and those who focus on reproductive health concerns below the waist. Today, they had a victory with Komen’s act of cowardice.
No matter how much anti-choicers wish otherwise, it’s not feasible to create an approach to women’s health that separates good girl concerns from bad girl concerns. For instance, many women land in gynocologist’s offices seeking contraceptive services and cervical-cancer screenings, and doctors use that opportunity to teach the art of breast self-exam. As noted in my previous post on the Santorums’ pregnancy troubles, even the world of the hated abortion provider and the much-vaunted obstetrician can’t be so easily separated, as the latter is often called upon to have knowledge of pregnancy termination in case of a medical emergency.
In the end, the grant money is less important than the symbolism of Komen buying into the conservative myth of good-girl health care vs. bad-girl health care. In reality, women’s health care can only work if it’s comprehensive health care. Komen has already been under serious scrutiny by those who argue that the organization cares more about shoring up their image than making real progress in the fight for women’s health, and with this move today, they proved their critics right.