The news that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had decided to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening program has touched off a firestorm of much-deserved criticism of Komen.
This latest move is part of a global drive by anti-contraception extremists who are trying to end programs that give women control over their childbearing. Caving in to extreme right-wing pressure – even when it comes from within your board – is always wrong for an organization that is so dependent on the support of mainstream Americans. This decision thrusts Komen into a debate that can only detract from its public image and cause donors and Race for the Cure participants to race for the exits.
The irony is that the public reaction was easily predictable because it happened before. Long before online organizing existed, ATT was pummeled in the press and by shareholders when they boldly announced in the mid-1980s that they would no longer fund Planned Parenthood because of right-wing complaints. As Communications VP for Planned Parenthood at the time, we ran full page newspaper ads all over the country under the banner “ATT Hangs Up on Planned Parenthood.” Besides the bad press, allied organizations that held ATT stock organized a protest and ultimately brought a resolution to the floor of the annual stockholders meeting, which was dominated by the debate over Planned Parenthood. What a black eye and what a distraction for ATT. History is repeating itself for Komen and this time in spades because of social media.
The blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter have lit up with anti-Komen posts. This attack on an allied organization will undoubtedly cost Komen many supporters and it will seriously damage its image as a group that values women’s health over politics. Many will shift their gifts to Planned Parenthood to support their cancer screening work.
The lessons for organizations are as follows:
- Read and learn from history.
- Caving in is far more costly than doing the right thing.
- Don’t invite right wing kooks to serve on your board and if you do, don’t listen to them.