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Susan G. Komen reverses decision to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding

NEW YORK — For leaders of the nation's pre-eminent breast-cancer charity, it was a firestorm they didn't see coming — and couldn't withstand.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure on Friday abandoned plans to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. The dramatic retreat followed a three-day furor that resounded across the Internet, in Congress and — perhaps most tellingly — among Komen affiliates who openly rebelled, suggesting the leadership had bowed to anti-abortion pressure.

"We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives," a Komen statement said.

Komen had adopted criteria excluding Planned Parenthood from future grants for breast-cancer screenings because it was under government investigation, citing a probe launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, at the urging of anti-abortion groups.

"We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political," Komen said Friday. "That is what is right and fair."

Komen officials were unavailable for further comment. There was no indication that the organization had come under pressure from its corporate partners. But many of Komen's own affiliates nationwide had objected to cutting off the grants, which totaled $680,000 in 2011.

Komen was inundated with negative comments via emails, on Twitter and on its Facebook page. Many of the messages conveyed a determination to halt gifts to Komen, organizer of the popular Race for the Cure events.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood was reporting an outpouring of donations, large and small, that totaled $3 million between Tuesday evening and Friday afternoon. Planned Parenthood said the funds would be used to expand its breast health services, which already provide nearly 750,000 breast exams each year.

Many around Tampa Bay hailed the decision Friday.

"That's wonderful," Linda Saul-Sena, a former Tampa City Council member, said after hearing the news. "I'm really pleased that they recognized we are on the same side, which is helping women with health care."

Saul-Sena and her 21-year-old daughter had joined about 200 others at the regional Planned Parenthood group's annual luncheon Thursday, where supporters raised more than $20,000.

Dr. Charles Mahan, an obstetrician and retired dean of the University of South Florida's College of Public Health, said he's glad the two women's health organizations are no longer in opposition.

"There's a huge number of (breast cancer) screenings with the Komen money," he said. "To lose that in this economy would have been just terrible."

Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said donations have been coming in locally. The regional office received a $300,000 matching grant Thursday from an anonymous donor. Zdravecky said though the past few days have been tense and disappointing, she was heartened that Komen listened to the public.

"Obviously the calls and the emails that were sent got a lot of attention," she said.

Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, said in a telephone news conference that she was astonished by the flow of donations and the often emotional support expressed for her organization on the Internet.

"This was simply a story, when it broke, it just caught fire," she said. "This kind of political bullying — folks are just saying, 'Enough.' "

Anti-abortion groups had pressed Komen for years to end its partnership with Planned Parenthood, even to the extent of recalling pink Bibles that were benefiting Komen and boycotting its Race for the Cure events.

Abortion foes applauded earlier this week when the funding cutoff was reported, and were dismayed by Friday's turnaround.

"The Susan G. Komen Foundation has caved in to the demands of radical abortion apologists," said Douglas R. Scott, Jr., of Life Decisions International,.

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, accused Planned Parenthood of employing a "scorched-earth strategy to force compliance with their pro-abortion agenda."

In Washington, Stearns said he would press ahead with his investigation of Planned Parenthood, including assertions that it has improperly used public funds for abortions.

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania and a staunch foe of abortion, said he was disappointed by Komen's shift. "It's unfortunate that public pressure builds to provide money to an organization that goes out and actively is the No. 1 abortion provider in the country," he said.

Komen said it was immediately starting an outreach to its affiliates and supporters to get the charity back on track.

"We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue," Komen's statement said. "We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics — anyone's politics."

Staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report.

Chronology of a backlash

. DECEMBER: The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation halts financing for Planned Parenthood.

. TUESDAY: The decision becomes public knowledge. Komen officials defend the move, referring to a rule by Komen that stops grants to organizations under investigation. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, is looking into whether Planned Parenthood has spent public money for abortions.

. THURSDAY: Furor erupts. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledges a $250,000 matching grant to Planned Parenthood.

. FRIDAY: Komen reverses its decision, and chief executive Nancy Brinker apologizes: "We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives."

Susan G. Komen reverses decision to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding 02/03/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 3, 2012 10:20pm]
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