By Luke Brinker
Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the prominent breast cancer charity, discontinued its grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings on Tuesday. As Slate’s Amanda Marcotte writes, Komen claimed that the withdrawal of funds stemmed from Rep. Cliff Stearns’s (R-Florida) investigation of Planned Parenthood, but given the politically charged nature of Stearns’s investigation, it’s more likely that Komen simply “caved under relentless pressure.”
Planned Parenthood has been under conservative assault in recent years, even facing prosecution in Kansas. The group struggled in 2011 amid federal and state budget cuts, which resulted from a largely fact-free conservative campaign against the group. Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl erroneously claimed that abortion is “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” When confronted with the actual figure – three percent – Kyl’s spokesman defended his boss’s comment, saying it “was not intended to be a factual statement.” Anything to advance the social conservative agenda, I suppose.
What is most remarkable about the right’s concerted campaign to stigmatize Planned Parenthood is that for much of its history, the family planning organization, founded by Margaret Sanger in 1916, was far from the political hot potato it is now. To be sure, social conservatives have always opposed its mission, but before party polarization set in, there was substantial bipartisan backing for Planned Parenthood. Prescott Bush and his son George Herbert Walker Bush were major fundraisers. John D. Rockefeller III was the recipient of a Margaret Sanger Award. Ann Romney, wife of Willard Mitt, was a donor in the 1990s. And until 2012, the nation’s foremost breast cancer charity supported Planned Parenthood’s efforts to screen women for the disease.
In an era of sham investigations, prosecution, and savage budget cuts, one might assume that Planned Parenthood has always been a lightning rod of controversy. But it has not always been true that one’s political party predicted one’s attitude toward the organization. Nor has it always been deemed necessary for a mainstream organization to cut all ties to a group focused on women’s health. Anyone who doubts that ideological polarization has very real consequences need look no further than Komen’s action yesterday.