Kentucky's Planned Parenthood, Komen groups caught in whirlwind of national debate

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comFebruary 3, 2012 

What a difference a day makes. On Thursday, Kentucky anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates alike were all atwitter, many on Twitter, proclaiming joy or dismay over the news that the giant breast-cancer awareness group Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation had pulled funding for Planned Parenthood, the sexual and reproductive health provider. By Friday, what had been done was undone.

"We want to apologize for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives," said the statement from Komen's national office. The opportunity for Planned Parenthood affiliates to apply for grant money, which had been blocked, was restored.

Billie Dollins, board president of Lexington's Komen affliate, said the news has been coming at such a dizzying pace that she was caught unaware by the original decision, announced Wednesday. "It was news to us," she said. "We had no idea."

Martin Cothran, a spokesman The Family Foundation, a conservative Kentucky non-profit, was on the phone with the Herald-Leader, praising Komen's decision to cut funding, when the new decision was announced.

"Flip-flops like this, like (those) in politics, show a disregard for principle," said Cothran, who called the issue "the most recent skirmish in the culture wars."

"The first decision was one more likely of principle; this is clearly one of politics," he said.

Planned Parenthood has long been a lightning rod for conservative activists because some of its clinics provide abortions, Cothran said. He said Komen's actions raise the level of awareness of Planned Parenthood activities and could rally conservatives.

Komen chief executive Nancy Brinker said Thursday that donations to her group have not been affected but are "up by 100 percent over the past two days," The Washington Post reported.

If the calls and emails coming to Planned Parenthood's Kentucky headquarters, in Louisville, are any indication, it certainly rallied those in favor of continuing the funding.

"We have been overwhelmed," said Taylor Ewing-Johnstone, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood in Kentucky. She found out about the reversal from someone who saw it online before the official announcement arrived from Planned Parenthood's New York headquarters.

"We are shocked, frankly," Ewing-Johnstone said. "There has never been a outpouring of support like this."

The Kentucky offices received several thousand dollars from those incited by Komen's decision to cut funding. Planned Parenthood also has an office in Lexington.

The national organization launched its own online campaign. The group raised more than $650,000 from across the country.

Much of the effort to raise money and repeal the decision was driven by people online. "So many individuals stood up and said 'no,'" Ewing-Johnstone said. The decision is a result, she said, of "every person who posted on Facebook or tweeted someone or wrote a letter or called someone."

"It's just gratifying to see that people speak out and say, 'We are not going to let politics get in the way of something that is this important.'"

The continued funding means that Planned Parenthood can continue to provide breast exams and care to women who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

Eliminating that funding because about 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's overall budget supports abortions "had gone too far," Ewing-Johnstone said.

Cothran, however, said Komen's original decision was the right one.

He said Planned Parenthood provides valuable services, such as breast cancer screenings, but that good does not outweigh the organization's support of abortion.

"If there is an organization that is doing all kinds of great work but a portion of their funds is going to promote slavery, is that something you are going to support?" he asked.

Dollins, the Komen board president in Lexington, said that although the national backlash has been "huge" and the Lexington affiliate's Facebook page has been humming with varying views, she's unaware of a spike in donations for the local chapter or donors saying they'd give elsewhere. The Komen staff is at a retreat out of state this week.

She said her understanding of the messages from the national office is that the Komen partnership with Planned Parenthood will continue as before. In fact, she said, it will have little direct impact on women in Kentucky, because Planned Parenthood here does not receive the grants in question.

She said she hopes the uproar won't negatively affect the good work her organization does.

"For me, the troubling thing is that we have lost focus of what we are trying to do," she said. "I feel for our volunteers, our supports and our sponsors." The group's most high-profile event, the Race for the Cure, draws 7,000 to 8,000 runners to Lexington each year.

"I hope they will hang in there with us," she said. "I hope women don't suffer."

Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261 or 1-800-350-5697, Ext. 3261.

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