Category: Breast Cancer
By William Schlitz
It was only a matter of time wasn’t it? But no one could tell you where or when it would happen. But it finally did. The deep political divide in American politics had finally reached outside the political arena and touched a part of American Society that took most people off guard. The vast majority of people who seldom pay attention to such political wrangling got their first taste of this ongoing political ideological war and found out they didn’t like the taste of it. Yet here we are.
The announcement by Susan G. Komen For The Cure that they would stop funding breast cancer screenings grants for Planned Parenthood took most of the nation completely off guard. The initial reactions on Twitter, Facebook and other social media were overwhelming expressing shock and dismay by the decision. People could not understand how a divisive social/political/cultural issue such as a woman’s right to choose could get injected into a well liked health campaign like fighting breast cancer.
While most of the nation struggled to understand just what was going on, the political Right and Left immediately used this clash to activate their organizations and to fight for their cause. Over the next couple of days many news stories jumped on the emotional issue. Planned Parenthood easily raised more than enough money to replace the funding they were losing from Komen. Komen announced that their online giving was up 100%.
Komen executives though couldn’t shake off the overwhelmingly bad press and social media messages and finally felt necessary to attempt to address the public concern. They went on TV, radio and the web and offered different reasons (this made it worse by the way) why they were defunding Planned Parenthood. First it was that Planned Parenthood was under investigation in Congress. (So is Bank of America but that wasn’t keeping Komen from taking their money as part of their Million Dollar Council Elite). Then they tried to say it was a “change is strategy” decision. That didn’t work either because no one believed at this point that the decision was nothing more than bowing down to pro-life lobbying groups. Finally Komen realized that their 20 years of “brand building” was being undone in one week due to this self inflicted bad policy decision and they issued a halfhearted apology. Time will tell if their apology can repair the damage they inflicted on themselves and if people will ever see Komen and the color pink the same way again.
At the same time that Komen was learning how to kill their brand, those on the political Left used the bad decision by Komen to organize. The political left is far more astute at using social media to organize and share information. Komen’s inability to prepare and handle the grassroots response to their decision to defund Planned Parenthood doomed them from the beginning. The political Left quickly Tweeted and Facebooked the initial media coverage. Within 48 hours organizations such as MoveOn had turned the outrage into a full campaign to support Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood even got into the social media part of this fight when they sponsored (paid for) messages on Twitter with the hash tag “#breastcancer”.
This rapid response campaign quickly raised more money for Planned Parenthood than they would have lost from the Komen grant. The campaign attracted high profile individuals such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who personally pledged $250,000. The combination of fundraising and online petitions forced Komen’s hand and made them backtrack from their initial decision. The campaign by the Left to support Planned Parenthood was amazing and devastatingly effective.
But unfortunately this story has not really reached a happy ending. How could I say that you ask? We won. The people expressed their outrage and those that committed the outrage backed down. We should all be celebrating. Right?
No and let me tell you why. The Left and Right have allowed their fight over a woman’s right to choose to contaminate another and just as important health issue. The individuals who work for Susan G. Komen and brought the pro-life ideology into the organization should all be fired. Those individuals who serve on the board of directors of Susan G. Komen For The Cure who voted and allowed this policy to be implemented need to resign their positions. They can never ask America to trust their brand again if those individuals who created this mess keep their positions within the organization. That is why their public apology was nothing more than a public relations attempt to buy time and hope that people will be too distracted in the future to notice when they don’t award a new round of grant funding to Planned Parenthood.
My harshest criticism though comes for those on the political Left. For years many individuals have written about the ongoing problems with Susan G. Kome For The Cure. Websites such as Gayle Sulik’s Pink Ribbons Blues, Think Before Your Pink, Pinkwashing.org and others have shinned light on how Komen has used their pink ribbon campaign to make money for themselves and their corporate sponsors. In fact a term has been created to describe this behavior. Pinkwashing.
Pinkwashing seems to be norm. Companies such as L’oreal, Avon, Revlon, Este Lauder, Ford and others all use pink in October to sell their goods. Even Major League Baseball and the NFL use pink on the field. Yet many of these consumer goods contain chemicals that are connected to the development of breast cancer.
To make matters worse, “pinkwashing” has and is being used by Komen itself to try and help their corporate friends. This willingness to protect their corporate friends/donors has reached a point where Komen is willing to fight against the effort to prevent breast cancer. Over the past few years, more and more scientific studies have demonstrated real concerns that there are environmental reasons tied to the development of breast cancer. One of those environmental toxins that have been identified is the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is an endocrine disruptor that is commonly found in plastic bottles, microwave ovenware, canned foods, toys and many other consumer goods. If causing breast cancer is not enough, BPA exposure also hurts efforts to treat and cure those who have breast cancer. In September of 2011 a study by physicians at California Pacific Medical Center was published that demonstrated that “two chemicals commonly used in consumer products – bisphenol A (BPA) and methylparaben –can interfere with the effectiveness of drugs used to fight breast cancer”.
Many international organizations have been leading the fight to remove BPA from consumer goods. Nations such as China, Canada, Malaysia, the European Union and others have all adopted some form of ban on the use of BPA. Yet in America we can’t even get our own Food and Drug Administration to adopt the simple policy to ban BPA from baby bottles (like China did). Of course the fight over a ban on the use of BPA does have many powerful interests against it. Organizations such as the American Chemistry Council have spent millions upon millions of dollars lobbying our government to stop any type of ban.
But where is Susan G. Komen on the issue? Most would immediately think that an organization that has tagged itself as “For The Cure” would be leading the fight to remove BPA from consumer products. What is shocking to many is not only are they not leading this fight against BPA, but they have allowed themselves to be utilized as a tool by corporations to stop these efforts.
The following is from Komen’s website about BPA (Apirl 2010):
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in some plastics and some coatings on metals. Concerns about BPA have centered on its use in plastic and metal food and beverage containers. Small amounts of BPA from the containers can get into the foods and beverages inside. As a result, we can be exposed to low levels of BPA.
Ever since BPA was first used in food and beverage containers, the low levels of BPA exposure were deemed safe. And, these low levels of exposure still appear to be safe for adults.1 Findings from laboratory studies have found that BPA can affect hormone levels in animals, although these hormone changes have not been linked to any harmful effects.2 And, at this time, there is no evidence to suggest a link between BPA and risk of breast cancer.
However, in January 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will conduct further studies to look at the health effects of BPA in infants.3 There is more concern about health risks to infants from BPA because they are exposed to higher levels of BPA than adults from the use of plastic baby bottles and feeding cups.
Yes, since April 2010 Komen has publically stated “that low levels of BPA exposure were deemed safe.” Even if Komen comes out today and states that this is a two year old statement, it is what is current on their website and they have done nothing to advocate/lobby for the removal of BPA from consumer products. In fact one of the most read politically left leaning magazines, Mothers Jones, has written a wonderful article on this issue and their article clearly demonstrates how far Komen is willing to go with the pinkwashing to protect the use of BPA.
There are more examples of "pinkwashing" by Komen that we could point out. What are missing though are any stories about the political Left fighting Komen on those issues the way they did for Planned Parenthood. It seems quite clear that those on the Left have made this about a woman’s right to choose just as those on the political Right have done.
I support Planned Parenthood. I know that they play an important part in delivering women’s health services to those women who lack access to healthcare. Without Planned Parenthood many women would never receive the basic health services, such as breast cancer screenings, that most of us with health insurance take for granted. Yet this fight should not be about Planned Parenthood.
This is and should be about who is controlling the fight to end breast cancer. The Left’s willingness to fight over a woman’s right to choose has clouded their ability to deal with the broader health issues women (and men) face. Yes a woman’s right to choose is important. But it is not the only health issue women face. When you forcibly blur the issue of choice with any other woman’s health issue you make it impossible to make progress where it may be needed most.
The political Left missed a wonderful opportunity to educate people around the world about what is truly going on with Susan G. Komen. We had an opportunity to shine light on the actions of Susan G. Komen and help millions of “donors” know that the dollars they currently give to fight breast cancer would do more good if given to organizations such as Breast Cancer Action or Breast Cancer Fund. Instead we got what we usually get from the Left, a view of the world that is just a narrow as those on the political Right.
Organizations and online communities such as Daily Kos, MoveOn, ActBlue and others should have pushed online petitions and fund raising efforts that were committed to breaking the monopolization of breast cancer advocacy and research by Susan G. Komen. If they truly cared about the women and men that face breast cancer, they would have stayed focused on the real issue instead of willingly taking the “choice” bait set out by those on the political Right. We will never make real progress on this fight if we allow those on the Right and Left to use it as a political football. Issues such as banning toxic chemicals such as BPA are more important to winning this fight against breast cancer than the current debate over Komen and Planned Parenthood.
This fight “For The Cure” has gone on too long and it is unacceptable that one organization has been allowed to monopolize efforts for prevention and a cure. The lesson that must be learned by this debacle is that we cannot allow any person or organization to take ownership of an important health issue and use it for their own political purposes and economic gains.
I hope that at some point we can refocus on the real issue and demand the changes we need to win this fight. The time has come to win this fight with breast cancer and those on the political Left and Right need to stop their efforts to manipulate it for use in their own political agendas.