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Op-Ed: Komen Foundation Needs A New Approach


And now, the pink ribbon on The Opinion Page this week. The Susan G. Komen Foundation angered one group of its supporters when it decided to stop funding for Planned Parenthood and another group when it reversed that decision last week. In an op-ed in today's Dallas Morning News website, Rodger Jones argued that the Komen Foundation needs a new approach, like special fundraising drives for research only, or else he'll keep on walking every time he sees a pink ribbon on a box of Cheerios.

What decisions are you going to make after Komen reversed its funding decision twice? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Rodger Jones is an editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News, and he joins us now from his office in Dallas. Nice to have you with us.

RODGER JONES: Thank you, Neal. How are you today?

CONAN: I'm well. Thanks. I think all sides could probably agree, the Komen Foundation handled this very badly.

JONES: Well, absolutely. There are those who are 100 percent confused, accused Komen of giving this reason and that reason for cutting off or threatening to cut off the funding. And absolutely, I think Komen was caught flatfooted on something they were apparently trying to handle through back channels, and didn't do it very well when word got out. And I would suspect it was somewhat orchestrated - and expertly so - on behalf of the Planned Parenthood people.

CONAN: Well, their campaign to embarrass the Susan G. Komen Foundation, that was certainly planned.

JONES: I have no doubt about that. And to those people who would say this is something that shouldn't be politicized, I'd - there's probably scarcely a member of Congress who hasn't spoken up this way or that way, signed one thing or another. Congress has made itself heard on both sides of this issue.

CONAN: As an opponent of abortion rights, you also said that you were surprised to learn that Susan G. Komen Foundation was supporting Planned Parenthood in the first place. So there was an issue of transparency.

JONES: No, Neal, let's just go back just a little bit. And I know a lot of news organizations, including mine, has a nomenclature that would describe a person such as myself as against abortion rights. I would say this: There is an act. The act is called abortion. My church teaches me that that takes a life. So in describing myself and my position on abortion, I would self-describe myself as anti-abortion. If someone were to want to - if someone were to choose to cast that in a different light, that is their right, but I would self-describe myself as anti-abortion.

CONAN: Well, maybe your editors can talk to my editors. And we could...


JONES: OK. That's fine.

CONAN: We could work this out.

JONES: That's fine.

CONAN: In the meantime, though, there is an issue of transparency. You said you were surprised to learn that Susan G. Komen provided funds to Planned Parenthood.

JONES: Well, absolutely. I'm - like most people in life, I guess, that we see somebody who is doing a fundraiser for one cause or another, we write a check. We check a box. We don't spend a lot of time taking a look at what organizations do or how they spend their money. Some of those that might be the beneficiaries of a lot of our money, I think, we - our level of care goes up.

But in buying a pink box of this or a can of that, I'm like most people. I figure, well, this is Komen. This is breast cancer. It claims a lot of lives. It affects a lot of families, and salute them for what they do, and absolutely maybe check a box or buy the product. Now, as one of those people - half of the United States, I would say, give or take - who think that abortion is morally wrong, I was surprised, I think a lot of other people were surprised that some of Komen's money went to Planned Parenthood. I didn't know that. I'm glad I know that now.

CONAN: And even though Planned Parenthood and Komen said that money was used for mammograms and things like that, you would object to it, anyway?

JONES: Well, that money does not go to mammograms. And I think if you ask Planned Parenthood closely, that money goes to screenings. And whereupon if a person were to be referred to a mammogram, it would go to potentially another provider that potentially would...

CONAN: Provide the test, yeah.

JONES: ...administer the mammogram again with Komen funds, and that's the problem that Komen is left with. Number one, a person such as myself who for whom abortion is an issue might be prone not to give to Komen on the basis of that, even though a small amount of it everybody says, a sliver of the Komen money went to Planned Parenthood. And of Planned Parenthood's screening money, apparently only a sliver of it came from Komen.

So when you listen to Nancy Brinker - and the one thing that she said over and over again last week was that the real reason or the main reason or maybe one of the two reasons that Komen was changing its grant structure or its criteria is because she said that - and just a little transcript, I've watched and re-watched her interview with Andrea Mitchell, and she said our job is to translate cancer therapy into usable types of therapies that can be accessible for most people. We need to translate care into usable clinical care in the communities. That means if a person is screened, we need to follow, find out what happened. Once they go through Planned Parenthood program, they often have to come to us for additional care.

Now, that sounds like to me that they were trying to correct a grant-making process that, perhaps, wasn't the best use of their money. Admittedly, it wasn't the best use of their money. OK. So Komen changes its mind toward the end of the week and said, all right. Well, never mind. We will revise our revision and Planned Parenthood gets to keep the money. Well, Neal, they already said they found flaws in their grant-making and thought that they can improve upon it. So what they're now left with is defending something that they already admitted was second best.

CONAN: There was another explanation as well, and that there were new rules that barred any contributions to organizations under investigations, including congressional investigations. And that seemed to cover - a lot of people said they only covered one group, the Planned Parenthood. And they took this as a campaign by those who oppose abortion to cut off funds for Planned Parenthood.

JONES: Absolutely. And I didn't know any of that was ticking in the background. And so let's say that's explanation B or A, or whatever it is, let's say there's A and B, which one do you believe? Well, I would have to say most of the media, if not - if the vast majority of media attention last week was on the explanation B, the investigations, and, well, what about asking the second level and the third level of questions about the grant-making procedure and whether Komen was spending its money wisely, whether it was a good steward of its donors' money and continuing the grant-making through Planned Parenthood when Planned Parenthood did some kind of screening - I don't know what that is - and then if somebody needed a mammogram, would refer them on to somebody else for a mammogram.

So we have two explanations. So back to the investigation. So let's say that there was some politics involved in that - I don't doubt it for a minute - which was one the predominant reason? It's anybody's guess, isn't it?

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest is Rodger Jones, an editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News. He posted an op-ed, "Plenty of Alternatives to Komen Giving" on The Dallas Morning News website today.

Here's an email from Angela(ph) in Oakland: I do not hear enough talk about what Planned Parenthood actually does. Abortion is a very, very small percentage of its activity. As a young college student with no insurance, the only way I ever saw a gynecologist was through Planned Parenthood. This is a public health service, not an abortion mill. In fact, Planned Parenthood prevents thousands of abortions every day by providing free birth control. And they are also a very large provider of abortion.

JONES: Well, I would honor Planned Parenthood for its work that it does in so many different areas. And insofar as what slice of what Planned Parenthood does - I'm looking at a little fact box in my own newspaper, Neal, and it says, abortions make up three percent of its services in 2010. OK, three percent of its services. Does that mean of every 100 people walking in, only three got abortions? I don't know. And here's another one. It says Planned Parenthood says abortion services made up less than 15 percent of its annual revenue. A lot of different ways you can slice it and dice it.

OK. Let's even stipulate that abortions, perhaps, aren't as numerous as - aren't as numerous as services provided in all different ways. Why does Planned Parenthood persist in cementing its abortion business so tightly to the other services it provides, and then play the victim when half of the population, the half of the population for whom abortion is a big deal, shudders in disgust at the thought of so many babies being aborted every year? I don't know why, again, why it needs to tether the abortion part of its business as closely as it does to everything else it does considering the explosiveness of the issue for so many people.

CONAN: Rodger Jones joins us on the Opinion Page. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go to Geri(ph). Geri is on the line from Walnut Creek in California.

GERI: Yes. I'd like to urge California women to keep their money in California. When I read about what the Susan Komen Foundation was doing, I decided, well, I'm going to act with my dollars by keeping my money in California. I have two girlfriends who actually have had breast cancer. One of them passed away this time last year, and the other one has survived it. And I find the argument that Susan Komen people are putting out very dishonest. I think that this is just a cover for giving in to right-wing political issues and that if they really care about saving lives, then they're going to spend money on screening, even if Planned Parenthood is the one that's providing the screening.

Planned Parenthood does provide more than abortions. In fact, there's 50 million Americans that have no health insurance. Many of those are women. Many of those are women who have children, and their only place where they can go and get a mammogram, which is life-saving political - life-saving medical procedure is at Planned Parenthood. And so if the Komen Foundation is really committed to saving women's lives and not committed to getting involved in a political debate, then it will continue to fund organizations like Planned Parenthood and all organizations that provide preventive care for women.

So I'm urging California women, don't send your money to Susan Komen. I actually did some research on it, and I saw that the CEO makes $500,000 a year, which I think is a huge amount of money. I'd rather send that money to organizations in California that are working to fight for a cure for women. So that's what I'm doing.

JONES: You know, Neal, I really appreciate that caller's sentiment. And unfortunately, she would apparently put me in some right wing on this issue, but let me say this. Last week was a great clarifier in a number of different ways insofar as Komen and breast cancer is concerned, it was a clarifier that caused me to make a donation that I had been negligent not moving on a little faster.

I went to the American Cancer Society website today and made a donation in the name of my mother. We lost her from breast cancer last year. She was a - an FDR Democrat. She raised us all Catholic, and she was anti-abortion. So I don't know if you'd put her in the right wing, but I can tell you this, she has never voted for a Republican in her life. She had never voted for a Republican in her life, and that was her belief. But I did find - like your caller from California, I did find an option to Susan G. Komen. I put money not only with the American Cancer Society, but checked a box for breast cancer. There are plenty of options.

CONAN: Geri, thanks very much for the call. And let's see if we get one more caller in. This is Cathy(ph), Cathy calling us from Columbus.


CONAN: Go ahead, Cathy. You're on the air.

CATHY: Well, as I was saying before, I didn't know if what your speaker was talking about breast screening versus an actual mammogram. I don't know what distinction they're making - what Planned Parenthood is making, but my only thought was that mammograms are vitally important to every woman. And they should be done, you know, age 40 or even earlier. But maybe what Planned Parenthood could do is say, well, all future moneys from Komen go into the breast screening pile. Maybe they should not have one pot. I can understand that some people might not want to donate to anything that has to do of Planned Parenthood. I respectfully disagree. However, I can see that as, you know, some people don't want to do that. So maybe if they kept those moneys separate or just, you know, made it a specification in that way.

CONAN: All right, Cathy. Thanks very much for the call. And, in fact, Rodger Jones, in a piece of advice for Komen - though your money's now going elsewhere - you advise something exactly like that, a research-only fund or something like that.

JONES: Well, I can tell you this from my mother's fight with her disease. There are therapies out there. There are drugs that are, to me, are just miracle drugs. They are life-extending and life-extending in such a positive and almost unbelievable way. Real breakthroughs are being made and that's where my money is going to be going.

CONAN: Rodger Jones, thanks very much for calling. And we have to say, we're sorry for the loss of your mother.

JONES: Thanks very much, Neal. Aldana Jones, Cleveland, Ohio, she was a great lady, loved her very much. And American Cancer Society has a donation in her name.

CONAN: Rodger Jones, editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News. He joined us today from his office there in Dallas. You can find a link to his op-ed on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Tomorrow, religious groups and the requirement to cover birth control. We'll talk about religious exemptions. Join us for that. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.