Komen partnership stirs controversy


Art by Paige Martin

Jake Alden

Art by Paige Martin
Art by Paige Martin

Web surfers wondering about any recent events put on by the charitable organization, Susan G. Komen: For the Cure, will find a surprise waiting in their search bar. A search for “Susan G. Komen events” receives a Google recommendation to search for “Susan G. Komen evil” that leads to a long list of articles written from both sides of the political spectrum blasting the organization for their views on birth control, contraception and abortion.

As an organization, Komen’s core purpose is to eliminate breast cancer through a principle it calls R.E.S.T. — research, education, screening and treatment. Throughout the years, this goal has brought them in and out of partnerships with Planned Parenthood and into conflict with birth control advocates and anti-abortion groups.

The very idea of such a business relationship infuriated some activists, who felt that Komen condoned abortion by doing so. Komen’s Race for the Cure Coordinator in Columbia, Mitzi Clayton, disagrees.

“I would say that everyone has a right to their own opinion, and Komen is not here to tell people how to think about their own pro-life positions,” Clayton said in an email interview. “However, if everyone were to keep in perspective Komen’s purpose, to eradicate breast cancer, they would see that while Planned Parenthood is not the only, but certainly an excellent conduit, to women who need screening for breast cancer the most.”

RBHS biology teacher April Sulze, who supports the foundation and runs in its annual 5k every year, agrees with Clayton’s belief that a partnership with Planned Parenthood made sense for Komen. She feels that both organizations share a common goal.

“I think that any organization that is promoting women’s health is good to be in partnership with,” Sulze said. “Although with Planned Parenthood there is a small portion of what they do that not everyone agrees with, on the whole, their goal is to promote women’s health.”

Komen has received criticism for its alliance with Planned Parenthood, but it’s also been attacked from the other side of party lines. Their lack of support for certain contraceptive methods and eventual severing of ties with Planned Parenthood has attracted opposition and led to claims that the organization operates underneath a double standard.

Komen’s attitudes towards contraceptives are a result of studies regarding a correlation between birth control pills and breast cancer, Clayton said. Studies conducted by the foundation in 2012 show that women who take oral contraceptives are at a higher risk for developing cancer later in life as a result of the hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, they contain. Researchers at Komen encourage women to weigh the pros and cons before using oral pills; so far, there has been little evidence to suggest that other methods of birth control, such as vaginal rings, injections and patches, increase any risk of cancer.

As for the severing of ties with Planned Parenthood, Clayton says that the controversial decision was a misstep some of Komen’s executive leadership made. The severance was a result of some of their personal opinions, and many of the executives involved have since left the foundation. Some supporters of Komen, such as Sulze, weren’t in agreement with the decision to separate from Planned Parenthood, but also weren’t terribly upset by the decision and believe that it was mostly a result of the negative debate the partnership was generating.

“There’s always controversy whenever you’re dealing with potential life,” Sulze said. “I think with that partnership ending, it just made Planned Parenthood look worse than they are.”

Not all pro-life supporters were upset with the partnership. RBHS alumna and women’s rights activist Emily Smith is a Catholic who opposes abortion and has decided to use natural planning rather than contraceptives.

“I believe that abortion is wrong because I believe that life begins at conception. Personally, I do not plan to use contraceptives for moral reasons,” Smith said. “I think Susan G. Komen’s partnership with Planned Parenthood makes sense. Planned Parenthood does things that supports Susan G. Komen’s goals, such as [providing] mammograms.”

Both Smith and Clayton said the criticisms of Komen are a result of looking at the principles surrounding an issue instead of the practicalities, such as offering mammograms to women who wouldn’t otherwise get them or exercising caution in selecting birth control methods. Partnerships such as the one with Planned Parenthood or warning women against oral contraceptives are a commentary on Komen’s medical goals and not its core ethical ideology, Clayton said.

“Typically, the women that frequent Planned Parenthood are from low SES (socioeconomic status) backgrounds. They have been exposed to little if any education on breast cancer, and they for sure are unlikely to be performing ever-important monthly self-breast exams, let alone coming in for an annual mammogram,” Clayton said. “I say that if you truly share the same purpose and goal of Komen, to eradicate breast cancer, you will put that into focus and not be distracted by your opinions on pro-life issues.”
By Jake Alden
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