Be Careful Who You Piss Off

The Huffington Post reports that several officers of the Susan B. Komen Foundation have resigned in the wake of what can only be described as the debacle of that organization’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

When the Foundation decided to play abortion politics at the expense of poor women who depend upon Planned Parenthood for their annual breast exams, it set off a reaction of epic proportions–not to mention a level of scrutiny that the organization had formerly escaped. Questions were raised about the outsized executive salaries, the organization’s habit of suing other nonprofits that had the temerity to use the color pink or the term “cure” in their own efforts, and the percentage of overall funding that found its way to actual breast cancer research. According to the Huffington story, fundraising is down, morale is low, and management is in disarray.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this exercise in self-destruction, but I think the most hopeful sign has little to do with the Komen Foundation and a lot to do with Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood has been the object of unremitting attack by the Right for many years now. Those of us who are older can remember when Planned Parenthood boards drew their members from civic leaders of both political parties; indeed, George H.W. Bush served on the national board until he decided to accept the nomination for Vice-President. The organization was not particularly controversial, because it was understood to be in the business of providing health care and family planning to women who needed those services but lacked the resources to access them.

The abortion wars and the rise of an extremist Right Wing willing to play dirty undermined the formerly widespread recognition of the importance of Planned Parenthood.

Despite the fact that abortion never exceeded 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services, despite the fact that no tax dollars were used for abortion services, and despite the fact that economic pressures made the organization’s provision of women’s health services more critically important than ever, Planned Parenthood’s reputation took a real hit–the result of unremitting attacks and dishonest characterizations.

The response to Komen’s clumsy effort to further de-legitimize Planned Parenthood may have marked a turning point.

When the “abortion wars” were seen as genuinely limited to the question of abortion, most women–even the most pro-choice among us–could recognize and respect the deep moral ambivalence many people feel about the issue. But recent political assaults have torn the mask off of much of the “pro-life” movement, displaying a profoundly anti-woman agenda. It is one thing to oppose abortion; it is quite another to attack women’s right to contraception and reproductive health as a violation of the religious prerogatives of those whose theologies subordinate women.

Women are waking up to the very real threat to our hard-won equal rights. In the process, we are recognizing the attacks on Planned Parenthood for what they really are–attacks on us.

Let’s hope that the people perpetrating those attacks–the Rick Santorum’s and the Eric Miller’s and their ilk–learn what the Komen Foundation has learned: be careful who you piss off. Because–as the saying goes–if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.


  1. Eric Miller and his tribe are not too happy with me because every time they get a mention in the news I make it a point to go on the counter-attack and let them know how I feel about their brand of right-wing stupidity.

  2. YAHOO! My faith is restored in the Susan B. Komen Foundation. I’ve seen some really good articles explaining “women’s health issues–front and center–“above the fold,” even, since the kerfuffle made by SBKF. As we well know, Sheila, it takes something sensational about an issue to get it on the front page. I hope everyone is reading them.

  3. A couple of random notes.

    First, Sheila, as a college professor I’m shocked–SHOCKED–that you allowed unneeded apostrophes to slip into your essay in order to make Santorums and Millers plural. 🙂

    Second, and more importantly, I’m not sure I would say people have moral ambivalence about abortion. Moral unease might be a better description. I count myself firmly in the pro choice camp, but I feel it is a tragedy on many levels when a woman has to decide to terminate a pregnancy. As Bill Clinton once remarked, we should never feel good that abortions take place. I will defend a woman’s right to choose, but there are a lot of reasons to hope that she doesn’t choose abortion. Such is the moral unease I feel about the issue.

    Of course, I fully recognize that if more women had access to and use of contraception, there would be fewer pregnancies that might be terminated. You’re correct that the war on contraception shows that the anti-abortion movement has deeper motives.

  4. Mr. Wilson: I think you nose is up in the air a little bit. As far as Shelia is concern, she has the right to express herself anyway she wants.

  5. Bill–OMG, you are right! What was I thinking? (And me an old English teacher, at that…)

    Six lashes with the wet noodle for me!

  6. Before everybody calls me an angry woman-hater, this is from my wife, who has an advanced degree in the field of medicine. She is also a female.

    Calling a pro-choice position a ‘pro women’s health’ position is sorely misinformed. If people are not familiar with the numerous medical complications that can result from ANY procedure, let alone something as complicated as abortion, again that speaks more to their politics than it does their knowledge in the medical profession. The same can be said of any form of contraception. There isn’t a single one out there that provides 100% safety and side effects are very common, numerous, and varied.

    The Komen Foundation does nothing wrong by supporting or not supporting Planned Parenthood, other than piss off a group of people who seek to define a very explicit agenda and absolutely chastise anybody who disagrees with them. I guess one side is just more vocal than the other.

  7. This comment makes my point: this is NOT a discussion of abortion, and continuing to pretend that it is is disingenuous. As my post points out, people of good will can disagree about abortion, without attacking contraception or an organization that provides women’s health services. Continuing to pretend that this is all about choice is simply dishonest.

  8. I apologize, you mentioned abortion several times in your post. You refer to people of good will who can disagree about abortion, but then allude to a large number of “pro-lifers” as being anti-woman or anti-“reproductive rights,” which is a term that lacks a very descriptive definition in and of itself.

    To suggest that the stigma/controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood has more to do with contraceptives than abortion is ignoring the real issue, IMHO. When you get down to it, terms like “reproductive rights,” “women’s health,” etc. are terms that are vague at best and certainly NOT congruous with many of the issues with which they claim to be defining.

    I would also point out that many people oppose government funding for Planned Parenthood because it certainly seems as if they don’t need the money. Sure, some people oppose it because they “hate women” but the minute we’re stereotyping an issue based on a very, very small minority, logic is out, the debate is over, and we’re back to a political issue.

  9. Marco (or his wife): “If people are not familiar with the numerous medical complications that can result from ANY procedure, let alone something as complicated as abortion…” What about the “numerous medical complications” that can result from pregnancy? Why do you and your wife not mention those?

  10. Registered Nurse here…I remember when pregnancy was practically referred to as a ‘disease state’. Complications occur w/ everything in life.
    I went to Planned Parenthood. I didn’t have insurance, I was a student, and needed my annual PapSmear and suffered from dysmenorrhea. I paid a fee based on sliding scale…I received excellent care and lots of education. My first breast exam was a Planned Parenthood. I received more education in a non-threatening way then I ever did by my FP.

    I am pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean I am pro-abortion…I like how Bill phrased his feelings as uneasy.
    It was a public health nurse from NYC in the 20’s who went to France to learn more about the “pill”. She got tired of seeing women aged beyond the years w/ 8+ children living in poverty. The Right’s stance on there issues are really frightening.

  11. Ms. Rodgers, at the risk of sounding flippant, what about them? I think you’re comparing apples to oranges, and if you don’t draw a distinction between the two, I believe this is merely a case of two people speaking different languages. Not a big deal. Many pregnancies, just like many abortions I’m sure, go off without a hitch. There’s certainly a debate over how “informed” the decision needs to be with both sides pushing too far in the other direction, IMHO.

    Look, 90% of the services Planned Parenthood offers aren’t controversial, as evidenced by the same people protesting the same thing outside of their clinics. I’ve never seen people holding up signs arguing against STD screening, for example. Nonetheless, Planned Parenthood doesn’t want to spin off it’s more controversial wing, so it seems logical to me that they would invite a lot of controversy because of that. It becomes difficult on a good day to distinguish exactly from where all the money is coming, so I don’t have a problem with anybody being uncomfortable with giving them funding, I don’t think it’s a health issue. Normally the people I see supporting them speak very cynically of the business culture in our country, but fail to realize that abortion, in and of itself, is big business. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I think a healthy dose of objectivity is needed.

  12. No, Marco, you said abortion is not pro women’s health, yet we all know pregnancy can have life-threatening complications. Pregnancy causes many more complications than any abortion ever did. Abortion is not about women’s lifestyle choices. It is about women’s health.

  13. Again, we’re speaking two different languages. Pregnancy is a human biological function, abortion is a medical procedure. It would be akin to comparing the number of choking deaths while eating each year to the number of stabbing deaths each year, not really a common ground there. You think there is, that’s fine, not a big deal.

    Furthermore, lifestyle choices have profound effects on one’s health. I’m having difficulty understanding how abortion somehow encourages positive lifestyle choices in relation to one’s health (in the grand scheme of things.) I know that’s not what the thread was about, but since you brought it up…

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