Komen’s political rebranding and some further political implications

Recently the breast cancer group Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced it would defund Planned Parenthood, a group it had supported for its work in breast cancer screening.

As I wrote in Politico Arena today:

Not only was the Komen decision a poor move for the organization, it carries broader political implications by making reproductive rights more salient to independent, swing women voters.

Komen has been turned into a political lightning rod. Before the incident, Komen was seen as an apolitical organization that served women and fought breast cancer. Since Komen have given several, entirely different rationales for defunding PlannedParenthood, its brand has been undermined and other information has surfaced about, for instance, the very low percentage of money from its merchandising that go to breast cancer programs. Information about ties of its leadership to anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood efforts, and a tweet from the avowedly anti-abortion Komen VP Karen Handel, a former candidate for Georgia’s governorship, to critics saying, “Cry me a river,” also contribute to rebranding Komen as a conservative group.

It’s hard to know if Komen will find it harder to raise money, but it’s clear that Planned Parenthood will more than replace the funds lost from Komen. Moreover, the whole incident brings these issues forward in the minds of swing women voters, such as those living in the suburbs of Ohio and Pennsylvania. This provides a net political boost for Democrats, although how much depends on much else, including the extent to which they discuss such issues.

To those comments, I’d add the following:

1. Some state and local affiliates, which fund programs in their areas, either have taken their own positions about the national group’s decision or have asked local supporters to convey their views to the national group. As Talking Points Memo reports:

In Connecticut, the local Komen affiliates promised to continue to fund their local Planned Parenthood screenings despite the directive from headquarters; in Denver, the national organization granted its Denver affiliate a waver to continue funding Planned Parenthood in the region.

Maine’s Komen affiliate has addressed the issue on its Facebook page.

2. One additional bit of information that has come out is that, as reported by Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic, the new guidelines that purportedly were the reason for defunding Planned Parenthood were adopted as “an excuse” to defund Planned Parenthood. Moreover, Goldberg reports, “Three sources told me that the organization’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood.”

3. Abortion has been a divisive issue for many years. When it comes to assessing public opinion, the precise question wording matters a lot. As you can see from these data, most Americans support legal abortion in some situations.

Correction: As shown in this screenshot, Komen’s Karen Handel’s tweet was a retweet and the phrase was not “Cry me a river,” but “Cry me a freaking river.” 

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.