Public Backlash Spurs Komen to Renew Ties with Planned Parenthood

Facebook and Twitter helped stir up public outcry over Planned Parenthood's loss of funding from Komen.

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Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood.

Saying that she had “never seen anything catch fire like I have the outpouring [of support] from people of all walks of life” for Planned Parenthood, the organization’s president Cecile Richards told reporters she was “relieved and grateful” for Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision to reinstate funding to Planned Parenthood.

Richards credited social media with creating and sustaining a wave of outrage over Komen’s decision to terminate funding for breast screening services to Planned Parenthood affiliates around the nation. Komen officials cited Planned Parenthood’s current investigation by Congress for allegedly improperly using federal dollars to fund abortions, and Komen’s new grant policy preventing it from supporting organizations under Congressional inquiry, for its controversial decision, but many immediately suspected political pressure from conservatives behind the pulling of funds.

Breast cancer patients and survivors, as well as current and former patients of Planned Parenthood clinics, took to Facebook and Twitter to voice their discontent with Komen’s decision. The public outcry was picked up by members of Congress, who expressed their dismay at the cut in Planned Parenthood’s funding, as well as by individual donors including Dallas philanthropists Lee and Amy Fikes, who donated $250,000, and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also pledged $250,000 in matching funds to Planned Parenthood. “All of these things were self-generated,” Richards said. “I’ve been doing this kind of work for a long, long time and I’ve never seen anything catch fire like I have the outpouring from people from all walks of life.”

All told, Planned Parenthood has raised $3 million in the past three days and gained 10,000 or so new financial supporters over the controversy, which Richards says will be directed “100% to not only maintain but expand our breast care work for women.” Planned Parenthood’s doctors and nurses provide more than 170,000 women with breast care every year, which includes clinical breast self-exams as well as referrals for mammography and follow up care.

Richards said she learned of Komen’s decision online, and has not yet spoken to anyone at the breast cancer charity despite putting in a call. As she has since Komen’s decision to pull its funding was first announced Richards again lashed out at conservative groups that have for the past year targeted Planned Parenthood for its reproductive health services, which include distribution of condoms and provision of abortions services. “The message in this for anyone running for public office is that women’s health is not a political issue,” she said. “Women and men made the point clearly that we cannot allow politics to interfere with women’s health care. I do think it’s a watershed moment of women and men standing up and saying we are not going to stand by while some groups politicize health care. That’s political bullying, and folks are saying that’s enough.”

Richards is hoping the momentum behind this latest clash will keep public support of Planned Parenthood going, and in particular serve as a warning to political groups hoping to impose conservative views on health care that Americans won’t tolerate such a hijacking. “What people want in this country is folks to focus on solving problems, judging less and caring more,” she said.

For now, Planned Parenthood is back on track to continue its Komen-partnered programs in breast screening, and for the time being, it’s in an even better position financially to expand some of those services. But Richards realizes that the politicization of health care won’t go away soon; Komen, as other organizations are, could become vulnerable to political pressures again. But for now, Richards said “I feel very positive and relieved that we can focus on women’s health again.”

Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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