Komen Races To Restore Planned Parenthood Funds

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In an about-face, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation announced Friday that it is not cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood. Komen is one of the nation's most prominent breast cancer groups. They came under intense criticism for their initial decision to cut off some funding for Planned Parenthood. Guest host David Greene talks with NPR's Julie Rovner and Rob Stein, who have been covering the story.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. In an about-face, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation announced yesterday that it is not cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood. Komen is one of the nation's most prominent breast cancer groups, and they came under intense criticism for their initial decision to cut off some funding for Planned Parenthood. The relationship seems intact again, but Komen is now facing intense criticism for how it handled the whole affair.

Both NPR's Julie Rovner and NPR's Rob Stein have been following the story and they join us now to talk about it. Thank you both for being here.


ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Nice to be here.

GREENE: Well, Julie, let's start with the news and, if you can, for those who are just catching up on all of this, remind us how this all started.

ROVNER: It started Tuesday night. There was a wire story on from the AP that said that the Komen Foundation would no longer be providing breast cancer screening grants to Planned Parenthood. It wasn't a whole lot of money but it really made an enormous splash in the world. These were two of the most iconic women's health organizations. They've been working together for a long time. And it was not entirely clear why at first. The Komen Foundation went to ground, if you will, didn't talk to any media except what they had told the Associated Press, which was that the reasoning was that they had changed their funding criteria and it was because Planned Parenthood was under investigation. And, of course, this investigation has been going on for a while in Congress. These are Republicans in Congress who are investigating Planned Parenthood for alleged funding irregularities.

Now Planned Parenthood has been the subject of investigation by Republicans in Congress for a long time. Planned Parenthood, as you know, in addition to doing an enormous amount of reproductive health work also does abortions. People who oppose abortion also oppose Planned Parenthood, and it has been a target for many years.

GREENE: Well, before we get to the next phase of the story, Rob Stein, give us a bit of the context. What did Komen actually fund at Planned Parenthood? Julie said breast cancer screenings. But what kind of money and what exactly were they paying for?

STEIN: Right. I think that's a very important point because we're only talking about $700,000 out of Komen's budget of about $93 million that they spend on community outreach, and out of Planned Parenthood's budget that's a budget of about $1 billion. So it's not a lot of money, but the money is used for breast screening. And this is when women come in to - a lot of women use Planned Parenthood clinics as to get their health care and they come in and get their breasts examined. This can be the first place where they can pick up a breast tumor and then if they find something that's suspicious they're refer them out for a mammogram. So I think that's why this has gotten so much attention, because this is sort of a fundamental way that women protect themselves against breast cancer, is by getting these breast exams and they were cutting off the funding for that purpose.

GREENE: OK, Julie Rovner, take us to the next phase of the story. The first argument was Komen saying that they had this policy, they're not going to find a group that is under investigation. But then things really got confusing.

ROVNER: Right. Well, the next thing that happened, of course, is that on social networks - particularly on Facebook and Twitter – there was this enormous backlash. Planned Parenthood interestingly got an enormous amount of money out of this; more than enough money to make up what they were going to lose from Komen. Komen got a lot of people complaining. Komen, of course, you know, Planned Parenthood, as one person said to me, that the idea that Planned Parenthood does abortions, not news. The idea that Komen might have a political bent, that was news. So there was this big backlash. Komen finally came forward, did a conference call, then they started to change their story. It wasn't about the investigation. It was about the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn't do mammograms, as Rob just said. They did they did breast cancer, just basic exams. So they kind of changed their story. And then finally Komen early Friday morning put out a statement said, OK, we're changing our criteria. We apologize if this decision looked political and Planned Parenthood will be eligible for funding.

GREENE: Rob, this is not the first time that Komen has been at odds with other breast cancer advocates and experts. Give us some of the history.

STEIN: Right. Komen in the world of breast cancer activists and breast cancer advocates and experts is a bit of an outlier. It has tended to go its own way in some big high-profiled issues. The two big ones that people might remember is when there were some questions raised about whether younger women, women in their 40s, should routinely undergo, get mammograms. And most breast cancer experts and a lot of the breast cancer advocacy groups supported that. Komen did not. And there was another case in which the Food and Drug Administration decided to revoke the approval of a drug called Avastin. It's a very expensive drug that was being used to treat women with advanced breast cancer. The FDA decided it really wasn't doing any good, in fact might be harming women; revoked the approval. Most experts agree with it, Komen was one of the groups that was not so happy with that decision. So it's not at all the first time that Komen has taken a different position from a lot of the other groups out there.

GREENE: So in a very amount of time, Komen says they're not going to fund an organization because they're under investigation. They're not going to funded organization because they don't perform mammograms. Then they come back and say they are funding the organization. What has this all done to the credibility at Komen?

ROVNER: Well, you know, I talked to a number of public relations crisis management firms and they said nothing good, basically. Although trying to fix a mistake in a short time is probably the best they could have hope for to get out of this.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Julie Rovner and Rob Stein. Thanks so much.

STEIN: Nice to be here.

ROVNER: Thank you very much.

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