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Komen decision illustrates political battle over Planned Parenthood


A weeklong firestorm over the Susan G. Komen foundation's decision to cut off -- and, on Friday, restore -- a grant to Planned Parenthood marked one of the high points in a political battle targeting the finances of the nationwide network of reproductive health clinics.

The Komen Foundation, the largest and most visible breast cancer charity in the U.S., announced on Friday that it would honor its six-figure grants to Planned Parenthood after having announced earlier in the week that it had decided to halt its support for the group. Komen had cited the fact that Planned Parenthood faced a congressional investigation -- in this case, led by conservative House Republicans -- as the impetus for its initial decision. 

"We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood," Komen founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker said in a statement.

Brinker reversed the group's initial decision, and amended Komen's grant criteria to only exclude groups under criminal investigation. Brinker said Komen would honor its existing grants to Planned Parenthood and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants.

Planned Parenthood is a group that provides a number of services to women under the banner of reproductive health. The clinics nationwide provide contraception and health screening, including for breast cancer. Komen's grants are meant to support the cancer screening.

But Planned Parenthood also provides abortions to women, drawing the ire of opponents of abortion rights, including a number of Republican members of Congress.

The reversal was only the culmination of a weeklong battle that intertwined politics and health issues; but the fight over Planned Parenthood's funding was hardly new to the political arena.

House Republicans voted in February of 2011 -- shortly after they had been sworn into office, and retaken the majority in that chamber -- to strip federal funding of Planned Parenthood, acting on a campaign promise they had made during the campaign in 2010.

That vote, on an amendment by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence attached to a government funding bill, evolved into a central sticking point of the April fight between House Republicans and President Obama which almost led to a government shutdown. Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), had pushed the restriction ostensibly as part of a larger effort to cut spending from the federal budget. But President Obama held firm in opposition to the Planned Parenthood cuts, though Republicans were ultimately successful in including an effort to ban the use of federal funds to subsidize abortion procedures in Washington, D.C.

The issue resurfaced in October of 2011, when Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns (R), the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood, and whether the group had impermissably used federal funds to pay for abortions.

It was that investigation which the Komen foundation had initially cited in its decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.

Supporters of abortion rights also pointed to Komen's hiring of Karen Handel, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who opposes funding Planned Parenthood, for the breast cancer charity's initial decision this week to cancel its grant.

"Karen did not have anything to do with this decision. This was decided at the board level, and by our mission," Brinker said Thursday on MSNBC.

But for as much the Komen foundation fought off the perception that its decision was politically motivated, its decision led to familiar dividing lines.

"Politics should never come between women and their health care, and I am very glad that Komen did the right thing and reversed their misguided and deeply damaging decision," Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a top Democrat in the Senate, said in reaction to Friday's announcement.

And EMILY's List, a group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, had rallied its supporters behind the fight against the original Komen decision.

"Our brave women in the Senate are already standing up to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, signing on to a letter urging them to reverse this politically motivated decision and restore their grants to Planned Parenthood," the group's president, Stephanie Schriock, said in a statement. "Weeks like this one just highlight the absolutely critical need for women’s voices to be heard in Congress."

Conservative Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) lauded the decision, which he had originally urged in a letter to Brinker last year.

"This is a welcome, long-overdue decision that will make Komen more effective in the fight against breast cancer," Vitter said in a statement earlier this week. " Komen does tremendous good by supporting education and research to fight breast cancer, and it was clear that their association with Planned Parenthood was unnecessary to advance that core mission."

Vitter said after Friday's announcement: "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 its enforcers in the media."