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Komen's blow to Planned Parenthood and women

By Laura Sessions Stepp, Special to CNN
February 3, 2012 -- Updated 0214 GMT (1014 HKT)
Planned Parenthood supporters walk to a rally on Capitol Hill on April 7, 2011.
Planned Parenthood supporters walk to a rally on Capitol Hill on April 7, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Susan G. Komen breast cancer group ends funding for Planned Parenthood
  • Laura Stepp: Planned Parenthood says Komen has caved to anti-abortion pressure
  • Abortion foe recently named Komen's senior vice-president for policy, she says
  • Stepp believes this decision hurts women who cannot pay for breast cancer exams

Editor's note: Laura Sessions Stepp is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, formerly with The Washington Post, who specializes in the coverage of young people. She has written two books: "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both" and "Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children through Early Adolescence." She is a consultant to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

(CNN) -- One of the truly remarkable and relatively recent boosts to the health of poor women in this country has been their opportunity to get preventive, reproductive health services at little or no cost in one place.

Over the years, one Planned Parenthood clinic after another has been able to offer these women not only affordable contraception, but full exams that include screening for breast cancer, the No. 1 cancer killer of women.

This week a major financial supporter of breast cancer education and services, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, announced it was ending its funding to Planned Parenthood. While Planned Parenthood believes Komen is caving in to pressure from anti-abortion groups, Komen said its decision was made because the foundation is not allowed to give money to any organization under government investigation.

An article in The Los Angeles Times said this was a reference to "an inquiry begun by Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, to determine whether Planned Parenthood uses public money to fund abortions," an accusation Planned Parenthood has heard before and denied repeatedly.

Laura Stepp
Laura Stepp

When Komen announced it was cutting Planned Parenthood funds, it failed to mention that it recently named Karen Handel senior vice-president for policy. She ran unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia on a strong anti-abortion platform and called for an end to funding for Planned Parenthood in that state. Another abortion foe, Jane Abraham, the general chairman of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, sits on Komen's Advocacy Alliance Board.

I have no evidence that they did or didn't participate in Komen's decision. But as ill-advised as it is -- and if comments to Komen's Facebook page are any indication -- I suspect that the decision will not be popular with many women who previously supported the foundation. In fact, by mid-afternoon Tuesday, the story had prompted an outpouring of financial pledges to Planned Parenthood: $400,000 and rising, according to the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff.

Did Komen 'cave' to political pressure?
Planned Parenthood flooded with cash

These supporters understand how important it is to be able to offer free or low-cost reproductive health care, especially to girls and women from low-income families in rural and medically underserved areas.

Those of us in the middle and upper income brackets (as I suspect many, if not most, Komen employees and supporters are) visit private physicians. We can afford, if not always easily, regular checkups and driving long distances if necessary.

Women with little income don't have these luxuries, which is where Planned Parenthood health centers come in. A clinic can be virtually a one-stop shop, where a woman might come for a Pap smear, birth control pills and a breast examination all on the same visit.

While mammograms and biopsies are referred out to other doctors at low or no costs, Planned Parenthood physicians oversee the cases. Women also learn in the clinics how to examine their breasts for cancer.

Without Planned Parenthood and similar organizations, the people most in need of this care would be the least likely to get it. This is not the America I know.

We've gotten along -- one could say prospered, even -- as a country of diverse views by finessing our differences. You believe this, but I don't. I believe something else, but you don't buy it. We forge a common ground.

I can't think of one organization I've belonged to or given money to with which I agreed 100% on every issue. But that hasn't stopped me from supporting good work that that organization does. If only Komen operated the same way.

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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Laura Sessions Stepp.

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