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Call Me, Tweet Me: Komen vs. Planned Parenthood: What would Grandma do?

Published: February 3, 2012
Section: Opinions


I expected my first column while abroad to be something intrinsically introspective about the beauty of London and the personal growth I’ve achieved after only two weeks. It would all be true—I love it here and I’m having the time of my life. It’ll have to wait though, because right now I’m so upset I’m shaking.

My maternal grandmother was and is one of the most important people in my life. From the time I was three years old, we lived in the same city and we saw my grandparents often. I remember her as a somewhat stern but always loving woman who adored her grandchildren, coming to as many of our school and extra-curricular events as she could.

When I was six years old, Lois Ruth Newmark Jipp, my namesake, babysitter and beloved grandmother, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a long, grueling year of aggressive treatment, she passed away at home, surrounded by her family, two months before my eighth birthday.
It goes without saying that it was a difficult time for my family, but as those in mourning often are, we were comforted by our memories of her, and the knowledge that she would live on in her legacy: her husband, her four children, their spouses and her (at the time) six grandchildren, including the baby my uncle and his wife were in the process of adopting.

From my grandmother, a working woman raising four children, my mother and her siblings learned the importance and the value of individual freedom and choice. Although she never gave up her Canadian citizenship and couldn’t vote on issues she supported, my grandmother was pro-choice on all issues: civil rights, women’s rights, GLBT rights, etc. In a speech on why she never became an American citizen, she said, “I’m sure if I had come from a country with no personal freedom I would have welcomed the opportunity to become a citizen of a country that puts such a high emphasis on personal freedom.”

According to my mother, her eldest, Grandma “didn’t have a lot of money to give to those causes, and she couldn’t vote for pro-choice candidates because she wasn’t an American citizen, so she supported individual freedom and choice with her voice, talking to her friends and teaching her kids.”

After she was diagnosed, my family began supporting Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization that supports education and research about breast cancer. My grandmother and aunt walked in the central Ohio Komen Race for the Cure when she was sick, and since her death several family members and friends have walked and raised money in her memory.

Since its creation in 1982, Komen has raised close to $2 billion for research, advocacy, education programs and other services relating to breast cancer. The organization has been absolutely vital in bringing breast cancer to national awareness. For that, I applaud them. For the past five years, those services included grants to Planned Parenthood clinics to provide breast exams to low-income and uninsured women.
Tuesday, Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said that the organization would no longer provide those grants on the basis of a new rule barring grants from organizations that are being investigated by authorities. Following urging by anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) launched an investigation to see if government funding was being used by Planned Parenthood to perform abortions. As of now, the rule only affects Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood.

According to Komen board member and lobbyist John D. Raffaelli, the decision was made due to fears of losing potential donations from people who didn’t want to support organizations under federal investigation. Dawn Laguens, an executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, followed up with a statement criticizing Komen’s attempt to increase donations from pro-life people and organizations, pointing out that its grants had paid for breast cancer screenings for 170,000 women.

“I’m going to reserve my empathy for the women left on the side of the road by somebody who has given into bullying,” Laguens said, and I agree with her completely. While I support everything Susan G. Komen has done to fight breast cancer, I can no longer support an organization that takes away a vital service from the women who need it. The women who receive breast exams at Planned Parenthood likely would not be able to afford them otherwise.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and one of my personal heroes, released a statement about Komen’s decision, saying, “We are alarmed and saddened that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation appears to have succumbed to political pressure. Our greatest desire is for Komen to reconsider this policy and recommit to the partnership on which so many women count.”
I know that my grandmother would approve of my decision to withdraw my support from Susan G. Komen for the Cure. To her, this would not be about Planned Parenthood’s stance on abortion, but rather the important services the organization provides to women who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. She worked hard to help provide for her family, and she would find it inconceivable that Komen didn’t want to help women who were unable to provide for themselves.

This shouldn’t be about abortion, it should be about women—women who are unable to receive medical care and prevention that they desperately need. I’m appalled and disappointed that Komen has forgotten that as they sold themselves to political zealots.
My donation has joined others in raising more than $650,000 in the past few days, offsetting the $680,000 loss in Komen grants. Whatever your stance on abortion, join me in helping with the early detection of breast cancer by donating to Planned Parenthood today.