5 Important Lessons from the Komen/Planned Parenthood Fiasco (Don't Mess With Women's Health)

What a week it's been for the pro-choice community.

On Tuesday, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest breast cancer charity in the country, announced that it planned to impose new funding criteria under which Planned Parenthood would no longer be an eligible grantee. Over the next several days, pro-choice activists and women's health supporters across the nation fought back against what all signs pointed to being a politically motivated attack on Planned Parenthood and the women it serves. Finally, on Friday, all the tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts, and articles pointing out Komen's hypocrisies and misdeeds paid off, and Komen backed down (sort of), announcing that it would tweak its new funding criteria and "continue to fund existing grants, including those to Planned Parenthood."

Plenty of people are skeptical about whether Komen will really do the right thing, or whether the group's latest announcement is little more than the Komen PR machine going into overdrive. And we should be skeptical. 

But still, credit where credit is due: someone tried to mess with one of our most beloved women's health institutions, and we fought back fast and hard. Pro-choice messages drove the news cycle. Family members and high school friends who are neither radical nor overtly feminist were all of a sudden defending Planned Parenthood on Facebook, because Komen was so clearly the "bad guy."

And those voices were heard. Komen couldn't ignore that onslaught of criticism, so it had to address it. As feminist activist Shelby Knox tweeted Friday afternoon of Komen's latest announcement, "The win is not @komenforthecure's opaque statement. The win here is that an anti-choice power play failed in the court of public opinion."

There are many lessons we can learn from this high-speed rollercoaster of a women's health battle. Here are several of them.

1. Do not mess with Planned Parenthood supporters.

Planned Parenthood supporters are a loyal bunch, as we saw this week. Was it the relentless war on women finally wearing them down? Or was it the thought of a seemingly wholesome charity, rather than some politicking congressmen, going after their beloved organization? Whatever the case, Team Planned Parenthood came out swinging this week -- more so, it seemed, than during the most recent Republican effort to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding.

Social media sites positively lit up with pro-Planned Parenthood messages over the past several days. But perhaps the most concrete demonstration of support came in the form of dollars. On a conference call Friday, national Planned Parenthood Federation of America CEO Cecile Richards told reporters that PPFA had received $3 million in donations from more than 10,000 individuals in just three days.

2. We can and should stand up to anti-choicers.

Knowing that there is such great public support for Planned Parenthood and its services, we should now feel more confident in going after loftier goals. We should not just defensively push back against anti-choice attacks, but actively try to improve women's reproductive rights.

Amanda Marcotte put it well in a piece for the Guardian on Friday:

The past week has erased months -- years, really -- of work on the right to build a cloud of suspicion around Planned Parenthood. Now, a new narrative is forming: if you attack Planned Parenthood, be prepared to meet massive resistance, as well as a ton of negative press....

[A]bove all, Planned Parenthood won this battle by going on the offense. The lesson learned here should not be forgotten. Instead of slinking away to nurse your wounds when anti-choicers call you a slut, throw it back in their faces by calling them prudes. Pro-choicers have nothing to fear by being loud and proud about what we believe. When they dish out shame, respond with pride -- and you will win.

3. People will now be more suspicious of charities -- and that's a good thing.

Some people have raised concerns that the entire charitable sector could see a dip in donations because Komen screwed up so badly, and I very much hope that doesn't happen. It goes without saying that there are many wonderful charities in this world, including plenty that support breast cancer research.

Whatever happens to donation levels, it's safe to say that many people will be more suspicious of charities from now on. Slapping a colored ribbon on a bumpersticker will not be enough to earn people's trust anymore. And that is a good thing, because, as the Komen kerfuffle has shown us, not all charities are worthy of our trust.

As Komen's dirty laundry was aired this week, many people learned what the term "pinkwashing" means ("a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease"). People learned that the money they donate does more good at some charities than at others, that charity executives can have dubious corporate ties and political agendas, and that some charities can bully smaller organizations with fewer resources.

People have also learned about the often questionable practice of "cause marketing," of which Komen is a big proponent, putting its pink ribbon on everything from buckets of fried chicken to handguns to beer koozies. And they now know that Komen's executives will flat-out lie to Komen's supporters and everyone else, as they proved when they fibbed about why they were cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, not once but twice.

They say that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Hopefully now that we've shone the light on Komen's iffy practices, the public will demand more from the charities to which they donate.

4. There is hope for humanity, because people really do care about the poor.

Another thing we learned this week is that, thank goodness, a lot of Americans do not agree with Mitt Romney in that they do care about the poor. An attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on poor women. As RH Reality Check's Jodi Jacobson writes:

A large share of the clients served at Planned Parenthood clinics are low-income African-American and Latina women. The National Cancer Institute identifies lack of access to early and effective screening for breast cancer (and hence lack of early treatment) as a primary reason that African-American and Latina women die of breast cancer at higher rates than the general population.

This week we saw the general population, many of whom are slipping into poverty at alarming rates, stand up against a decision that would have disproportionately affected low-income women.

5. The war to dehumanize women is failing. 

This is the big one: the effort of anti-choicers to brand women as less than human is failing. Again, Amanda Marcotte:

The debate over healthcare is basically about this ultimate fight over whether or not women are people. Conservatives see women as objects. Sex and reproduction the way the objects are used, and like with any other property, how and who uses it is the whole point. That's why abstinence-only classes compare sexually active women to lollipops that have been opened and licked, or toothbrushes that someone else has used....

[This] fight was over who basically owns the mainstream: anti-feminists or feminists, people who think of women as expensive sex toys/gestation machines or people who think of women as people? That's why everyone was so upset. And that's why the feminist win was so meaningful.

That is a huge victory. Now, the hard part. We have to stay vigilant, and vow to fight back in the future like we did this week. If we do, we will keep winning.

Sarah Jaffe, Adele Stan and Tana Ganeva contributed to this article. 

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