Caught in a maelstrom of public reaction to its decision to cease funding Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation announced Friday that it would reverse course.
Komen will no longer bar organizations that are under government investigation from applying for grants. As a result, Planned Parenthood — which is the focus of a House probe over whether it has used federal funds to pay for abortions — will once more be eligible for Komen grants.
“We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives,” the Komen foundation announced in a statement Friday morning.
But officials across the organization said they were still reeling from the fallout of what many described as a public relations fiasco created by Komen’s leadership.
“I felt like we were eaten alive,” said Logan Hood, executive director of Komen’s Aspen affiliate in Colorado. “We had no advance warning.. . . We were sent into battle without armor.”
News of the original decision to defund Planned Parenthood set off an avalanche of e-mails, phone calls and tweets in opposition to the move as well as in support of it.
Several attempts by Komen officials this week to explain the decision only fueled the controversy. On Thursday evening, the foundation’s board of directors held a conference call to seek a way out.
“We had to fix what [people on all sides] were charging was political,” said Komen board member John D. Raffaelli. “I hope this addresses claims that we were acting politically. That was not our intention.”
According to the foundation’s statement, the grant criteria will be amended “to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.” It did not specifically state that the foundation would fund Planned Parenthood but said that the group would be eligible to apply for future grants.
Planned Parenthood celebrated the news. “We are enormously grateful that the Komen Foundation has clarified its grantmaking criteria, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Komen partners, leaders and volunteers,” President Cecile Richards said in a statement.
Still unclear is the long-term impact on a charity long regarded as unassailably apolitical.
“Honestly, we have been turned into a political association without any political skills,” said Laura Farmer Sherman, executive director of the San Diego Komen affiliate. “There was not a crisis-management plan. I think they were completely caught off guard.”
The affiliate has already lost $50,000 in corporate sponsorship for a Race for the Cure in the fall. Farmer Sherman said she has scheduled meetings Saturday to try to make amends with supporters.
“There are some relationships that are, perhaps, irrevocably damaged,” she said.
Ann Hogan, board president for Komen’s Connecticut affiliate, also said that work would need to be done to regain the trust of Komen supporters. “Part of our next steps will be assuring our stakeholders that we’re still committed and that we still need their support,” she said. “But that doesn’t make [this week] go away.”
Hogan and Farmer Sherman were among a slew of Komen regional officials who had publicly criticized the national group this week. E-mails flew between affiliates Wednesday and Thursday, with multiple Komen chapters sending letters to the Dallas headquarters opposing the defunding policy.
“It’s been a hard few days,” said Michele Ostrander, executive director of the Komen chapter in Denver. Her staff of 10 spent the week handling phone calls and responding to e-mails from local supporters. They were “overwhelmingly” against the policy, she said.
Maryland’s Komen affiliate reached out to supporters through e-mail and a phone message that welcomed feedback on the new funding criteria. “Komen Maryland is working towards a world without breast cancer, and we appreciate your support as we change our focus back to this mission,” the message said.
Meanwhile, several Planned Parenthood affiliates said they had been deluged with offers of financial support.
When Gina Popovic, a vice president at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and Northern Idaho, arrived at her office Thursday, she found multiple donors waiting for her, checks in hand. The affiliate has started its own breast-health fund. “It’s been a proud moment for us, to realize what a vital public service we’ve been providing,” said Karl Eastlund, the affiliate’s chief executive
The national group said it has received a total of $3 million from more than 10,000 donors since Tuesday.
Now that Planned Parenthood has been declared eligible again for grants, affiliates said they were sorting out the practical implications.
Martha Edmonds, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central New Mexico, said she thought it was unlikely her group could obtain Komen funding this year because the deadline for applying to the local affiliate has already passed.
“We didn’t end up submitting a grant application for this current cycle because we thought we wouldn’t be eligible,” she said.
She anticipated that the national organization would step in with the roughly $15,000 annual grant that Komen usually provides to cover breast exams and mammography referrals as part of the annual well-woman checkup it offers to about 200 low-income women.
(None of the Planned Parenthood affiliates in the Washington area receive any Komen funds, executives said.)
There is also some ambiguity in the new funding policy because Komen’s statement did not mention a second reason the foundation had given for ending Planned Parenthood’s funding: that the group does not provide direct mammogram services but instead refers patients to other providers.
On Thursday, Komen founder Nancy G. Brinker had said the organization wants to support groups that directly provide breast-health services, such as mammograms. And Komen President Elizabeth Thompson had told reporters that the funding decision was unrelated to the ongoing congressional investigation. “First and foremost, it doesn’t really have anything to do with that,” Thompson said.
But numerous Planned Parenthood affiliates said they had been explicitly told they were not eligible to apply for funding because of the investigation, with no mention made of the mammogram-
Abortion opponents expressed dismay at Friday’s announcement.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said a statement from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who wrote a letter in May urging the Komen foundation to terminate its funding of Planned Parenthood. “While Komen now claims that they don’t want their mission to be ‘marred by politics,’ unfortunately it seems that Komen caved to political pressure from the pro-abortion movement and enforcers in the media.”
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, the antiabortion group that pushed for the congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood, said the “clear intent” of the Komen foundation’s latest move is “them trying to get out of the box that Planned Parenthood has put them in. . . . I see this as a large organization trying to bring closure to end this.”
Nonetheless, because Komen officials have not backed away from their earlier talk of refocusing funding on groups that directly provide mammograms and other breast screenings, Yoest said she is hopeful that the ultimate result will be that the foundation ceases future funding of Planned Parenthood.
“I see the Komen statement as being a mixture. I’m going to wait and see how they implement the new standards,” she said.
Staff writer Lena Sun contributed to this report.