The nation's largest and most widely recognized breast cancer advocacy organization faced a rolling avalanche of criticism and major revolt within its own ranks Thursday after a decision to eliminate all funding to Planned Parenthood.
The decision by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation to halt grants totaling $680,000 last year -- used by 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates across the nation for breast exams -- has stirred debate across country since it was announced two days ago.
All seven California Susan G. Komen affiliates -- including the San Francisco chapter -- have come out in opposition to the group's new national policies, and 26 senators urged the Komen foundation to reconsider its decision.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $250,000 to help Planned Parenthood, which provides family planning and abortion services, to make up the money it lost.
The furious debate is also a sign of the intense polarization of the nation's politics in a presidential campaign season during which Planned Parenthood has become a lightning rod for attacks from Republican presidential candidates.
The Dallas-based Komen Foundation, the country's largest breast cancer charity, released a statement saying the decision was "not about politics."
In a YouTube video, Komen founder and chief executive, Nancy Brinker, said the group had reviewed its grants and added "more stringent eligibility and performance criteria."
Her comments directly contradicted those of John Raffaelli, a Komen board member and Washington lobbyist, who told The New York Times on Wednesday that Komen made the changes to its grant-making process specifically to end its relationship with Planned Parenthood. Raffaelli said that Komen had become increasingly worried that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., would damage Komen's credibility with donors.
While the defunding move does not directly affect Planned Parenthood centers in the Bay Area, which did not receive Komen funds for breast screening, local offices have been flooded with calls of support. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter sizzled with angry comments -- although some continued to support Komen, the organization they have come to love.
An online petition hosted by MoveOn.org to "re-establish breast health funding for Planned Parenthood affiliates" is swelling with virtual signatures. And some Bay Area women's health organizations are holding emergency board meetings on how to address the issue.
"We're a direct service organization, so this is something that strikes very close to our core values," said Peggy McGuire, executive director of the Women's Cancer Resource Center: East Bay Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, which provides target outreach programs for low-income Latinas and African-American women. The group does receive some money from Komen, McGuire said, but it is not directly affected by the funding decision.
"Virtually everyone who has walked in our door today -- clients, volunteers -- have been talking about this," McGuire said. "Our board of directors is holding an emergency meeting tonight to determine what our response will be. My question is, how does (the Komen decision) fit in with Komen's mission?"
Lupe Rodriguez, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood's Miramonte affiliate, which serves women and families at 10 health centers in Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, said they've been fielding calls and emails the past couple of days, mostly from people offering support.
"We have felt a really strong response from community members, patients, donors. And we're really heartened by it," Rodriguez said. "Many of the people Planned Parenthood serves, here and nationwide, are low-income with no access to other health services. We're often the first entry point into the health care system for many women and families, not only for reproductive services, but we also offer general health care and primary care and even pediatric care at some sites."
Nationally, Planned Parenthood already has made up for any reduction in funding through an outpouring of support in response to the cutoff. It has so far received $400,000 in small donations from more than 6,000 people around the country, plus it is getting $250,000 from a family foundation in Dallas in addition to the money pledged from Bloomberg.
Over 30 years, Komen became one of the most successful disease advocacy organizations by bringing pink ribbons and the fight against breast cancer into the national forefront.
Vera Packard, executive director for Hers Breast Cancer Foundation in Fremont, which provides women with post-surgical products, emotional support and educational services, said she is disturbed by the Komen decision but hopes some good may come out of it.
Susan G. Komen is "the only brand name people know in regard to breast cancer," she said. "So people might say, 'Oh, I donate to breast cancer funds, but now where is my money going?' And they may pull their support.
"On the other hand," she said, "it might make people more aware of how these things work. We have lots of small groups in the Bay Area. Now people might look at giving support to local agencies instead."
New York Times contributed to this report.
Editorial: The Susan G. Komen Foundation's cutoff of funds to Planned Parenthood could be the most
cowardly act by a health foundation in U.S. history. Page A11
Online: Has the Komen Foundation put politics above women's health? Scan the code or go to www.mercurynews.com/extra to vote.