Followup: Komen PR Nightmare Continues

Fri, 2012-02-10 15:28

The pendulum has swung so that now – having changed policies after pressure from Planned Parenthood and liberal supporters -- the Komen for the Cure organization is facing the wrath of pro-life conservatives. 

By Eric Rabe, Senior Advisor

In an earlier post, I discussed the firestorm that erupted when Komen adopted a new policy that cut off funds to Planned Parenthood and Komen’s decision to retract the decision.

The politics around this case make it especially explosive.  Pushing back against what might be seen as a win for liberals, there is this petition from the right, with about 5,000 signatures at week’s end, demanding that Komen stick by its decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in during an interview with conservative host Scott Hennen saying Komen should not have changed its position after the December board approval of new giving guidelines.

Meanwhile, Komen is embroiled in a further debate about funding for stem cell research, an area of concern to pro-lifers who see abortions as the source of research material.   The pro-life website, LifeNews, posted on Feb. 1, an article reporting that last summer Komen quietly stopped funding stem cell research at Johns Hopkins.

Quickly Komen disputed the claim saying, “...human embryonic stem cell tissue has not been used in breast cancer research funded by Komen.”  Komen’s statement was hardly a model of Sherman-like clarity, but the Komen web site continues to show some $3.75 million in total grants to Johns Hopkins as of August 2011.

Komen is obviously desperate to get beyond the controversy.  Komen senior vice president, Karen Handel, resigned this week.  She’s a former GOP candidate for governor of Georgia who supported cutting grants to Planned Parenthood.  

Meanwhile, a group of Democratic U.S. Senators launched an effort to organize one million people “in support of women’s rights,” noting, “Our opponents...tried to get Komen to cut off support for Planned Parenthood.”  The website is funded by campaign contributions to the senators.

At this point, Komen can hope that time will salve its wounds, and that will happen.  But moves to assure transparency of its operations and giving, as the Brookings Institution noted, are and will be critical not only for Komen but for all high-profile charities and wise companies as well.  Steps to reinforce Komen’s transparency and react quickly when it is challenged (as Komen did in the LifeNews case) are now the best chance the charity has to move out of the maelstrom.