George Graham

Poor Women Must Risk Cancer Because of Politics

Unless you’ve been a recluse for the past two or three decades, you have probably participated in some kind of fund raiser for the Susan G. Komen foundation. Or at least  tacked one of those pink ribbons somewhere on your person to raise awareness of the fight against breast cancer.

It’s one of the most high-profile charities in the world. And one of the richest. Komen reports revenues of nearly $350 million a year, with 24 percent going to research and 20 percent to fundraising and administration. I don’t know where the rest goes.

Nice work if you can get it.

Still, since its founding 30 years ago, Susan G. Komen for the Cure has contributed nearly two billion dollars to cancer education, research and screening.

I am enough of a curmudgeon to wonder why cancer is still such a scourge – considering all the money that charities and governments have devoted to fighting it in my lifetime. You would think they would have found a cure by now.

But I have to concede that breast cancer rates have declined sharply, and what was once a death sentence is now often treatable.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the supposedly nonpartisan Komen charity is contaminated by right-wing politics.

And this has caused the cancellation of its funding for Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings.

Writing in today, Mary Elizabeth Williams points out that:

In many cases, Planned Parenthood is the only access to healthcare that low-income women and men have.

She wonders:

What happens to the women who depend upon Planned Parenthood to tell them whether or not they have breast cancer? What becomes of mothers and daughters and wives and friends who believed that Komen’s commitment to “the cure” meant something more than protecting its catchphrase?

According to Planned Parenthood, in the past five years support from Komen provided nearly 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals. The charity’s decision to end this funding will deprive thousands of low-income women of possibly life-saving services.

Salon’s Williams points out:

It’s worth noting that while breast cancer rates are dipping, an October report from the American Cancer Society warned that they are declining more slowly among low-income women, and that “Poor women are now at greater risk for breast cancer death because of less access to screening and better treatments. This continued disparity is impeding real progress against breast cancer.” You know who loses when Komen backs away from Planned Parenthood? Probably not those nice, pink-clad ladies who attend Susan Komen wine-tasting events.

Not “nice ladies” like the charity’s senior vice president of public policy, Karen Handel.

Williams recalls that when Handel ran for governor in Georgia, she declared, “I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood,” making clear that she “strongly supports” laws prohibiting “the use of taxpayer funds for abortions or abortion-related services.”

And that is hardly surprising, considering that Handel was a Tea Party candidate and a close ally of Sarah Palin.

You might have noticed that Planned Parenthood is being demonized by Republican politicians as some kind of abortion mill despite the fact that only a small fraction of its services are abortion-related. Its major services – in addition to breast cancer screenings – are ovarian cancer screenings and HPV tests.

Do you see what’s going on?

Right-wing fanatics in America are attacking any and every institution that does not comply with their extreme agenda. These are the people who brought down ACORN by fraud and lies. Their crusade is wreaking havoc among America’s most vulnerable citizens – minorities and the poor.

So while I applaud the Komen crew for giving some of its money to cancer research, I deplore its war on poor women.

You won’t see me with one of those pink ribbons pinned to my golf cap any time soon.

Photo above shows the start of the 2009 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in New York City.

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About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for