UPDATE FROM THE EDITORS: On Feb. 3, a day after halting its contibutions, Komen reversed its stance and reinstated its contribution to the Planned Parenthood project to screen underserved women. The incident has cast a critical light on how much Americans value and need affordable/free health screenings and hold in contempt mixed messages and the appearance of political prejudice when it comes to access to health services. The incident also shines a light on the overall issue of access to screening. Screening is a form of primary prevention, which is a cornerstone of public health, and it often is driven through word of mouth. Preventing even a few women from access to screening means that many more may not avail themselves of the option. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that underserved women, with no usual source of health care and/or no health insurance are much less likely to get mammograms than those who are not underserved.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s recent decision to stop contributiing to a Planned Parenthood project to screen underserved women
for breast cancer sent shockwaves through the women’s reproductive health community. According to The Associated Press, Komen, the leading breast cancer charity in the United States, paid for 170,000 of the 4 million breast exams and 6,400 of the 70,000 mammogram referrals performed by Planned Parenthood last year; the charity also contributed $680,000 to Planned Parenthood in 2011 and $580,000 in 2010.
The Komen Foundation released a statement tying its decision to stop its contributions to its new policy barring grants to organizations, including Planned Parenthood, that are under local, state or federal investigation. Solinda Vasquez of Planned Parenthood called the decision “politically motivated," adding that “it will have a devastating impact on the services that low-income women receive." A countervailing view came from Dr. Eric Winer, a breast cancer specialist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and chairman of Komen’s scientific advisory board, who stated that access to breast cancer screening would not be jeopardized
. Komen’s public statement
aimed to reassure both donors and clients that there will be no gaps in service to women needing breast-health screening.
The question for boomer women: Do we have a dog in this fight? For most of the millions of women ages 50-74, reproduction is less of an issue than breast health. Removing Planned Parenthood as a breast cancer screener could have some impact on low-income women if less money were available; the organization would conduct fewer screenings, raising the potential for missed diagnoses. But Business Week reported that Planned Parenthood is already filling
Komen’s financial breach, so it’s unlikely that a woman of any age or income bracket will have to seek a new provider.
If anything, the Komen-Planned Parenthood struggle may have more to do with our psychological comfort levels about abortion and how it is financed than where we get mammograms. Some of us will stop donating to the Komen foundation because we see it as trying to punish a large and well-known abortion provider. Others will feel relieved that Komen’s refocusing on a life-affirming mission of supporting breast health separates it from Planned Parenthood’s perceived culture of death. Either way, we might do well to think about what these two organizations stand for, and where they may fit in our psyches, our hearts and our checkbooks.
By Marlene Piturro, Ph.D.
Marlene Piturro has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and an MBA in organizational development. In addition to her private practice focused on career and retirement issues of older adults, Piturro has consulted on the issues of aging for such companies as Pfizer, Pharmacia, the Leapfrog Group and Oxford Health Plans. As a journalist, she has written about senior health issues for The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune Washington Post and USA Today. In 2010 her husband, percussionist Howard Van Hyning, died after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
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