In a somewhat confusing news release responding to the firestorm concerning the decision to cut off grants to Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that it is backing off its decision not to defund groups under investigation, as is Planned Parenthood for allegations of illegally using federal money to pay for abortions. (“We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.”) But what is not clear is whether an alternative justification for the cut-off, namely that Planned Parenthood doesn’t actually provide breast cancer services, only referrals, will result in a cut-off of future funds.
It’s remarkable, when you think about it: One private foundation decides not to give money to a charity but instead to pursue its core mission through other entities. And for this, a storm of vitriol descends on the foundation from elected officials and elite opinion-makers. If it were any other issue (e.g., pet rescue, education, save the whales), it would be unthinkable for members of Congress to weigh in. I mean a private charity kind of gets to decide where to spend its money, while its donors can continue to give or not as they see fit, right? Ah, but when the topic is abortion, all rules go out the window.
Megan McArdle wrote earlier on the flap over the decision to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood, saying that it is “absurd to pretend that abortion is somehow incidental to Planned Parenthood’s services, and since money is fungible, giving them money is probably helping to fund abortion provision. Since I think this is a very tough issue on which reasonable people can disagree, I can see why the federal government, and private foundations, would decline to fund their operations.” She continued:
While most people think that abortion should be legal, most people don’t support the current state of abortion law; polling seems to suggest that the majority either wants abortion to be illegal in all cases, or legal only in the first trimester — and even then, possibly only in the case of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. A majority of people polled say that abortion is morally wrong. And pro-life identification runs neck-in-neck with pro choice.
In that environment, you can see why an organization that does not itself have a mission to support abortion access would want to pull back from funding Planned Parenthood, even for related services. Unfortunately, while they easily could have declined to fund PP without much backlash, de-funding them sends an extremely explicit message that is probably going to cost them significant public support. Which is a pity, because early detection and treatment of breast cancer is a mission that we should all be able to agree on.
You might agree or not but the presumptuousness of liberal members of Congress who believe it is within their purview to bully private charities suggests that the left really does not understand the important distinction between public policy and private, voluntary civil institutions. (See my colleague Greg Sargent’s piece on the letter that two dozen members sent to the Komen Foundation.)
The Post interviewed Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure CEO Nancy Brinker and President Elizabeth Thompson on Thursday. At that time, they confirmed that their group wants to stick to its core mission and not simply funnel funds through another entity that doesn’t itself provide breast cancer screening. (“We have decided not to fund, wherever possible, pass-through grants. We were giving them money, they were sending women out for mammograms. What we would like to have are clinics where we can directly fund mammograms.”) We don’t know whether that rationale is now null and void.
Pardon me, but this is nuts. Planned Parenthood can raise its own money (which it did in spades in the wake of the flap). Those who want to give to a breast cancer charity can donate with the peace of mind that their money will be used to fight breast cancer. (Donors did so generously as a result of the controversy.) Now Planned Parenthood’s bosses have every right under current law to do what they do and raise money to fund their organization. But shame on them for intimidating other groups that might contemplate the same move as the Susan G. Komen Foundation made.
And to members of Congress, let me say: Butt out. Don’t you have enough to handle not doing your own jobs without hectoring charities to do your bidding?