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Cancer Foundation Reverses Planned Parenthood Cut


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. Just days after announcing it would no longer fund cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure abruptly reversed course today. On its website, the foundation posted what it called an apology to the American public and promised it would not make decisions that could be deemed political. But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, the Komen Foundation's actions still leave many questions unanswered.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Komen's original justification for excluding Planned Parenthood from future funding was that it was the subject of a congressional investigation. But yesterday, Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker insisted that the foundation's new funding guidelines had less to do with that and more to do with the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn't perform mammograms.

NANCY BRINKER: And wherever possible, we want to grant to the provider, that is actually providing the life-saving mammogram.

ROVNER: Today's statement from Komen doesn't address the question of what kind of services Planned Parenthood, which does about 700,000 manual breast exams each year, provides. But it has backed down on the investigations part. Now, organizations can only be excluded from funding if those investigations are, quote, "criminal and conclusive in nature and not political." Komen officials wouldn't elaborate beyond the statement, but Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told reporters as far as she's concerned, the organization is back in Komen's funding good graces.

CECILE RICHARDS: I've read this Komen statement. I think it's very clear. And I really take them at their word that this is behind us.

ROVNER: As of midday, Richards said she hadn't talked to Komen officials yet. But New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who spearheaded a letter sent by 26 senators yesterday urging Komen officials to reverse the decision, said he talked to Brinker today, and she told him specifically...

SENATOR FRANK LAUTENBERG: They wanted to continue the funding of programs, of grants.

ROVNER: But not everyone is convinced that Komen has done a complete 180, particularly the anti-abortion groups that urged the cutoff of funding to Planned Parenthood in the first place.

KRISTI HAMRICK: The Komen Foundation did not say Planned Parenthood could not seek funds, but that presently they were not qualified for the funds. And that has not changed.

ROVNER: Kristi Hamrick is a spokeswoman for Americans United for Life. She says because Planned Parenthood doesn't do mammograms, they still won't be eligible for future funding.

HAMRICK: Should they wish to change that and buy mammogram machines and reapply, I'm sure the Komen Foundation would consider it.

ROVNER: Overall, the reaction to Komen's announcement has been fairly predictable: backers of Planned Parenthood are happy, abortion opponents are generally not. But given the enormous backlash against the original decision, crisis communications professionals, like Patrick Kinney of Connecticut's Gaffney Bennet Public Relations, say reversing the decision was basically Komen's only option.

PATRICK KINNEY: The brand has to come above all else, and the Komen brand is a very well-respected one, and one that is associated with, you know, helping women. And so I think you need to put your brand and your mission over any sort of criteria that was at the crux of this controversy.

ROVNER: Davidson Goldin, meanwhile, who practices crisis communications out of New York City, says Komen may have already damaged its brand by making what appeared to be a political decision.

DAVIDSON GOLDIN: Just because they fixed the mistake quickly, which was the right and advisable thing to do, doesn't mean that they can wipe away the impact of the mistake in the first place.

ROVNER: And he warned that just about the worst thing Komen could do from a public relations point of view is to deny Planned Parenthood grants in the future when it appears funding has been restored.

GOLDIN: Perhaps the only bigger mistake that Komen could make than the mistake they made the other day would be trying to parse words and be cute and find a way to continue denying funding after they've now given the world the impression they plan to restore funding.

ROVNER: But for now, at least, both sides say this fight is over. Julie Rovner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.