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Indiana University

Indiana Planned Parenthood benefiting from rift between national group, Komen charity

February 3, 2012
Bloomington, Indiana --

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The Susan G. Komen for the Cure's decision this week to cease funding for Planned Parenthood has not come without consequence.

It has politicized an effort that previously seemed void of any partisan baggage.

It has polarized its once-united supporters into two distinct camps -- one elated and one enraged.

And it has caused a rift between two important women's health groups.

But for all the angst and debate, it appears there is one thing the decision hasn't done: had much of an effect on Planned Parenthood.

At least, not a negative one.

If anything, the decision seems to have galvanized support for Planned Parenthood. The national organization reports that donors upset with the decision have rallied to create an emergency fund for breast health.

It already has raised nearly $680,000 -- the amount Komen previously donated.

Locally, Planned Parenthood was never really in jeopardy because Indiana receives no Komen money.

Nevertheless, since Tuesday, the statewide group has received nearly 30 gifts totaling $2,900 in response to the Komen announcement, Planned Parenthood of Indiana President Betty Cockrum said.

"We're making pink lemonade out of lemons," Cockrum said. "I am not sure I have ever seen quite the level of awareness and outrage that we have seen in the last 24 hours."

If there is a local effect, some worry it might be backlash against Komen -- and a reduction in the number of those who participate in the organization's signature event: the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure scheduled for April 21.

Last year, the event drew about 37,500 supporters.

Thursday, the Facebook page of the Central Indiana Komen affiliate erupted with complaints from one-time supporters pledging to take their money, time and running shoes elsewhere.

Shannon Watts, a former board member of the local Komen affiliate, said she had not been involved with Planned Parenthood in the past -- but she would be now.

"The nice thing about Komen was that it brought all people together because at the end of the day, we were just there to support cancer survivors," Watts, a Zionsville resident, told The Indianapolis Star. "What this has done is polarize that."

Komen Central Indiana's office deferred all comment Thursday to the national organization, but the group appeared to try to distance itself somewhat from its parent organization in a statement on its website.

The statement said it had no role in the decision and urged those who are angry about the policy to contact the national office.

"We appreciate the outpouring of concern from our passionate constituents and value each and every opinion," the statement reads in bold. "The messages we have received so far are not lost here -- your voices have been heard and are being shared."

Komen's Arkansas affiliate went even further, calling for the new policy to be changed.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at IU Simon Cancer Center took pains to inform visitors to its Facebook page that it has no say in Komen operations.

"KTB is an Indiana University entity, under the IU School of Medicine which -- just as Planned Parenthood did -- receives funding from Susan G. Komen for the Cure," the page reads. "We have absolutely no involvement in Komen's funding decisions."

The national Komen affiliate linked its decision to withdraw funding to Planned Parenthood to new guidelines that stipulate money cannot be given to organizations under investigation. A Republican congressman has initiated an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood flouts the law by using federal money for abortions.

At a news conference Thursday, Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker contested the assertion that her organization had bowed to the will of abortion rights opponents.

"We don't base our decisions on whether one side or the other will be pleased," she said.

A source with direct knowledge of decision-making at Komen's headquarters in Dallas, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, said Mollie Williams, who had been Komen's director of community health programs, had resigned in protest over the grant cutoff.

Williams, in an email, said she could not comment on her departure for reasons of professional confidentiality, but she was clear about her views.

"I have dedicated my career to fighting for the rights of the marginalized and underserved," she wrote. "And I believe it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission."

Williams said she was saddened by the rift because she admired both Komen and Planned Parenthood.

One person pleased by the move is state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, who authored legislation last spring to cut state funding for Planned Parenthood's general health services. A federal judge put the law on hold in June.

Schneider, whose mother-in-law died of breast cancer, said that personally, he's now more inclined to be involved with Komen.

"I would say it's very important for me to know that their funding would be based on the issue of breast cancer itself," he said. "Since Planned Parenthood has admitted publicly that they don't offer mammograms, there's no reason for Komen to fund Planned Parenthood."

In Indiana, Planned Parenthood clinics perform breast exams in their offices and provide referrals for mammograms.

The funding decision could wind up costing Komen far more than it will Planned Parenthood, said Beth Gazley, an associate professor of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

Gazley compared Komen's situation with that of the Boy Scouts more than a decade ago after that organization expelled a member because he was openly gay. The incident marginalized the Scouts, she said, and led to a drop in membership.

"When an organization makes a decision that's a political decision on a very hot topic like this," Gazley said, "they really have to know what they're doing."

Komen "has just politicized women's health," she said, adding, "They just told everybody who supports the pink ribbon, well, that's not really what we're about."

Planned Parenthood's Cockrum, however, remained reluctant to write off Komen. Rather, she said, she hopes the current tension between the two organizations resolves.

"We continue to support the good work that Komen does, and we're hopeful that as time goes by, this harm will be healed and that they will emerge from this whole," she said. "We need them. We need for them to be effective."

Each year Planned Parenthood has a team in the Race for the Cure, which she said is one of her favorite events.

But will the team run this year? Cockrum said it's too early to tell.

Call Star reporter Shari Rudavsky at (317) 444-6354.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.