Breast Cancer vs. Abortion
The last week was one of the most eventful, and yet most uneventful weeks in recent pro-life history. Here’s the condensed version:
On Tuesday, January 31, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation announced that they would no longer give grants to Planned Parenthood. Pro-life advocates cheered, donated money to Komen, and sent them messages of encouragement. Pro-choice advocates booed, donated money to Planned Parenthood, and sent Komen messages of discouragement.
A few days later, Komen announced that they would continue giving grants to Planned Parenthood. Pro-life advocates booed and accused pro-choice advocates of lying and bullying. Pro-choice advocates cheered and accused pro-life advocates of lying and being insensitive to breast cancer.
Now most of the nation hates Komen, Planned Parenthood has received a huge boost in donations on top of Komen’s returning grants, and pro-life advocates have to discern what this means for their movement.
Perhaps a good place for the Church to begin its soul-searching in this drama’s aftermath is with the activist tactic that shaped the drama: boycotting.
By most accounts, the blow-up over Komen’s funding of Planned Parenthood began last year when LifeWay Christian Resources recalled a pink Bible they sold which benefited Komen, due to complaints about Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood. In a statement, LifeWay said:
Though we have assurances that Komen’s funds are used only for breast cancer screening and awareness, it is not in keeping with LifeWay’s core values to have even an indirect relationship with Planned Parenthood.
This action undoubtedly put some pressure on Komen to end ties with Planned Parenthood, but it wasn’t the only source of pressure. As WORLD Magazine’s Marvin Olasky pointed out, Life Decisions International might have also influenced Komen’s decisions to cut funding, since Komen had been on their boycott list. In a blog post released after Komen cut their funding, LDI appears to take some credit for the foundation’s change in policy:
Many people are rushing to take credit for the Komen decision, including some who were thoroughly opposed to our boycott… While a handful of individuals played key roles, the real heroes are the countless numbers of pro-life activists and organizations that have continued to pressure the charity over the years.
After years of protests and criticism from pro-life advocates, the biggest breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure has announced it is halting further grants and donations to the Planned Parenthood abortion business.
[Note the deceptive language in this statement. Komen made donations to Planned Parenthood's breast cancer work, not their "abortion business."]
Fox News reported that the Alliance Defense Fund “praised Komen”:
…for seeing the contradiction between its lifesaving work and its relationship with an abortionist that has ended millions of lives.
And finally, Slate’s Rachael Larimore wrote:
[T]he Komen foundation would not have acted as it did if it had not been hearing similar complaints from pro-lifers for years. It could not have been a decision that it made lightly. I’m grateful that it listened to the concerns of men and women who told them they would not donate to Komen as long as it had a relationship with the nation’s largest abortion provider.
It’s clear that LifeWay, LDI, and “countless numbers of pro-life activists and organizations” had been pressuring Komen for years to sever ties with Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, many of these groups believed that Komen’s initial decision was influenced by their boycotts and public criticism. These groups had good reason to believe that they were influential, since Komen initially indicated that they cut funding to Planned Parenthood because of an ongoing investigation regarding the illegal use of funds to provide abortions, which happend to be the primary concern pro-life advocates had with donating to Komen:
Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity’s newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. According to Komen, this applies to Planned Parenthood because it’s the focus of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., seeking to determine whether public money was improperly spent on abortions.
Even Planned Parenthood and its supporters agreed about the reason Komen severed ties with them. From USA Today:
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has depicted Stearns’ probe as politically motivated and said she was dismayed that it had contributed to Komen’s decision to halt the grants to PPFA affiliates.
“It’s hard to understand how an organization with whom we share a mission of saving women’s lives could have bowed to this kind of bullying,” Richards told the Associated Press. “It’s really hurtful.”
The story quickly spread that Komen had given in to the pressure from the pro-life movement, which resulted in a backlash from the media, politicians, and former Komen supporters. This led Komen to release a new statement saying that the primary reason that they would stop giving Planned Parenthood grants was because they did not offer mammograms. Rather, they only referred women to places that did mammograms and then reimbursed the women from Komen’s grants.
This motivation seemed far less political and quite reasonable: why give money to an organization that would only have to pass it along to another organization? That can’t be efficient. So now, Komen’s goal was to make better use of their funds so that they could do more to help women, but it was too late. The narrative had already been written.
The Ironic Responses
The way Christian and conservative groups responded to Komen’s second statement is revealing. They immediately began criticizing Planned Parenthood and the media for accusing Komen of making a political rather than a logistical decision.
Despite Komen’s plea that “[m]aking this issue political or leveraging it for fundraising purposes would be a disservice to women,” Planned Parenthood immediately made this issue political and leveraged it for fundraising purposes, accusing Komen of bowing to political pressure.
Imagine that. An organization whose sole purpose is to fight against breast cancer wanting to give their money to organizations that actually aide in fighting breast cancer… So it seems that the narrative that Susan G. Komen is some sort of right-wing extremist, anti-abortion group doesn’t really hold water, now does it?
[W]hen Planned Parenthood and their media machine swung into action, they talked not about what Komen’s Brinker began with in her video — that “We have the highest responsibility to ensure that these donor dollars make the biggest impact possible” — but that PPFA was ‘alarmed and saddened’ at the decision, which they attributed to “political pressure”.
Please catch the irony here: those who praised Komen for responding to pro-life complaints by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood were now mocking Planned Parenthood and “lefties” for accusing Komen of responding to pro-life complaints by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. While I’m confident that pro-choice advocates lied and used deceptive language during this ordeal, I am much more troubled by some of the arrogance and deception coming from Christians who ought to know better.
The irony, unfortunately, only gets worse. Once Planned Parenthood supporters began to complain to Komen and threaten a boycott, Christian and conservative groups called them “bullies.”
Douglas R. Scott, Jr., president of Life Decisions International (LDI):
Pro-life people want all corporations, be them for-profit or not-for-profit, to stop supporting Planned Parenthood. Failure to do so will result in a boycott. We are not demanding that they fund pro-life groups. Pro-abortion apologists, on the other hand, want all corporations to give money to Planned Parenthood. Failure to do so will result in a boycott. And once a corporation begins to support Planned Parenthood it better not even think about having a change of heart. Isn’t that extortion? If these people truly cared about the health of women, they would accept the Komen decision and urge Planned Parenthood to seek private funding.
Rod Dreher, The American Conservative:
The liberal blacklist. Of course I support anybody’s right to withhold money or approval from any organization for any reason. But let’s just be clear what’s going on here. Komen broke ranks, and for the cultural left, that cannot be understood, forgiven, or overlooked; Komen must be ruined. Nothing Komen or Nancy Brinker has ever done for women in 30 years matters to these people. This is war.
Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress:
Yesterday’s insane reaction to Komen, by the press and the government gave me a mental image of Moloch, enraged and stomping and roaring because there was a threat of less meat coming to his fire.
Today, Moloch is appeased; the media’s heartbeat and respiration are returning to normal. They and their pals in DC can take a nice, deep cleansing breath and sit back and smile, understanding what they have just demonstrated to themselves, their enemies and the world: you don’t have to fall in love; just fall in line, or you will fall, altogether.
The Day of the Bully has dawned.
The message here seems to be that it’s okay for pro-life groups to boycott Komen because of its relationship with Planned Parenthood, but it’s not okay for pro-choice advocates to boycott Komen for its relationship (or lack thereof) with Planned Parenthood. It is just when we do it, but bullying when you do, both sides seem to think.
In the end, Komen caved to the greater pressure of Planned Parenthood’s supporters and returned (probably) to its policy of funding Planned Parenthood.
A Moratorium on Boycotts
Everyone wants to cry “Foul!” when the Other Side uses its power to force its will on someone, but when we do it, it’s not only justified, it’s heroic. And I think this impulse, this feeling that it is somehow unjust for the Other Side to use its power to influence private organizations, has some truth to it.
Christian activism tends to take two forms, political and economic. The basic method in both cases is the same, though: we work for justice and goodness by using our votes and/or dollars to influence those in power. This is, after all, the way our country, with its free market democracy, works.
While I don’t want to argue that we should totally abandon political action or dismiss money’s influence, I do think that the Komen situation reveals the dangerous nature of attempts to force positive change through coercion. This kind of change is fickle and passing. If we can force Komen to change their policies with our boycott, then what is to stop another, bigger boycott from forcing them to change back? As we have seen with Komen, the answer is “nothing.” Whether it is through votes or dollars, coercing someone to accept our position is nihilistic: it suggests that real change — change of heart and mind — is impossible, or unlikely, and so the safest bet is to make it profitable to adopt our beliefs.
Perhaps instead of using our power to influence our country, we ought to offer the world an alternative that persuades with its beauty. Russell Moore touched on this in his Christianity Today article:
We don’t need a Christian foundation to compete with the merchants of death. We don’t need one more coalition with enough signatures to counter the threatened boycotts of the abortion rights peddlers. And we sure don’t need to sell bumper stickers with a line drawn through a pink ribbon.What we need, first of all, are churches who recognize that this isn’t all that surprising. Mammon is a jealous god, and he’s armed to the teeth. We need to create the kind of counter-culture that constantly shines the light of Christ wherever these false gods exist in our own affections. And then we need to demonstrate what it means to believe that a person’s life consists in more than the abundance of his possessions.
How do we create this counter-culture that Moore mentions? I think of efforts like Care Net‘s pregnancy centers, which give support to women with unwanted pregnancies. Missions like this work to demonstrate Christ’s love by caring for and meeting the needs of others and doing the hard work of providing alternatives to abortions.
I’m not arguing that Christians should not have initially boycotted Komen, nor that we should never use boycotts, but I do think that this mess shows this tactic’s deeply problematic nature. Rather than devote time, money, and energy to forcing Komen to cut ties to Planned Parenthood, rather than complain because the Other Side used its influence to get Komen to recant, and rather than complain about the (probably very real) media bias, let’s offer the world an alternative that actively demonstrates Christ’s love.
On Tuesday the 7th, Karen Handel, vice president at the Susan G. Koman Foundation, resigned and spoke to Fox news about the controversy with Planned Parenthood. In her interview, she condemned Planned Parenthood and their supporters for their backlash and pressure:
All of us should be saddened that an outside organization will put this kind of pressure on another organization around their processes and granting and how they do it and to whom they are going to grant.
An outside organization putting pressure on another organization (Komen) around their processes and granting? Like Life Decisions International and many other pro-life groups pressuring Komen to not give Planned Parenthood grants? Lylah M. Alphonse at Yahoo! gets the hypocrisy here:
But she also admitted that long-standing outside pressure from pro-life groups who objected to Planned Parenthood’s abortion services triggered the decision to change the grant criteria. Rather than criticize these groups for pressuring Komen, however, Handel — who last week described Planned Parenthood as a “pro abortion group” and who ran for governor of Georgia on a pro-life platform promising to eliminate state grants to the women’s health organization — told Fox News that Komen needed to avoid the controversy.
This exchange illustrates the heart of my argument beautifully. Handel seems to be blissfully unaware that if she condemns pressure from “outside organizations” she’s also condemning the very movement that helped to inspire Komen to cut Planned Parenthood to begin with. It’s “pressure” when they do it and “controversy” when we do it.
Again, I’m not opposed to Christians choosing to withhold giving to a charity that they believe would use their money to support immoral actions. But we have to acknowledge that when we play the game of political and economy power–especially when we organize and try collectively to compel others to follow our morality–there are other, bigger, less ethical players with a lot more experience waiting to teach us a lesson. We can complain all we want about them using their influence to pressure Komen, and how unfair it is, but we’d be much better off finding more effective and winsome ways of promoting and defending Life.