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Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy divides Tampa Bay supporters

Toni Van Pelt has been a longtime supporter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

She liked that it raised awareness about breast cancer and dollars for research. Just a few months ago, she participated in a fundraiser for the group in honor of a friend who survived the disease.

But Pelt's warm and fuzzy feelings about Komen, the breast cancer charity famed for its pink-ribbon campaigns, ended this week after the organization announced it was cutting off its partnership with Planned Parenthood.

"I'm not going to be supporting Komen anymore," said Pelt, the southeast regional director for the National Organization for Women. "This is a travesty."

Komen said it will no longer give grant money — used for breast exams and cancer screenings — to Planned Parenthood because of a federal investigation. That inquiry, requested by U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Ocala, is looking into whether public money was used for abortions.

Last year, Planned Parenthood got about $680,000 for breast health programs from Komen, which took in more than $300 million in 2010, according to Charity Navigator.

Though just 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services are abortion-related, that tiny segment has drawn enormous controversy from conservatives in recent months. Supporters of Planned Parenthood say Komen is just bowing to pressure from abortion opponents.

Reaction on both sides has been swift and passionate, flooding the airwaves and Internet.

"I think its a good decision," said breast cancer survivor Pat Cigoi, 62, of St. Petersburg, who has participated in many Komen events locally including the 3-Day walk. She described herself as anti-abortion.

"They're just going to have to look for other funding," she said.

Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida said none of its seven health centers got grant money from Komen, but the group on Wednesday vigorously joined in protesting Komen's action.

"In these tough economic times, more women than ever need access to essential health care services like lifesaving breast cancer screenings. Politics should never get in the way of a woman's ability to access health care," said Carolyn Johnson, the group's board chairman.

Donors are reacting, too. Tait Sye, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the organization had received more than $400,000 from more than 6,000 online donors by Wednesday afternoon, compared with the 100 to 200 daily donations it usually receives.

On Wednesday, Komen issued a statement saying that its decision has been misunderstood; it acted due to strict new criteria against funding any group under investigation, it said.

"We regret that these new policies have impacted some long-standing grantees, such as Planned Parenthood, but want to be absolutely clear that our grant-making decisions are not about politics," the group's official statement said.

Tampa resident Debra Faulk doesn't care about the politics. To her, it's about the women.

Her sister is a breast cancer survivor, and she believes early detection is key.

"How many thousands of women won't have access to breast exams?" she asked.

Faulk, 49, said she believes the foundation does a lot of good. She estimates she and her walking partner have raised more than $50,000 over the last six years.

Dena Leavengood of Tampa says she has supported Komen over the years but has recently shifted her focus to Planned Parenthood. That decision was clinched Wednesday. She said she won't give to Komen like she did in the past.

"I'm just really disappointed that (Komen) would take such a stance," said Mary Freeman, 68, of Largo, who goes for annual mammograms at a local Komen-funded center.

"I think that Planned Parenthood has been misunderstood by a lot of people. What they really do is provide health care for women that can't afford it."

Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this article. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which stages fundraising walks such as this one in St. Petersburg, says it won’t offer grants to any  groups that are under investigation.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2010)

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which stages fundraising walks such as this one in St. Petersburg, says it won’t offer grants to any groups that are under investigation.

Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy divides Tampa Bay supporters 02/01/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 2, 2012 3:26pm]
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