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Friday, February 03, 2012

Susan G. Komen, Planned Parenthood, and the 'Teachable Moment'

Planned Parenthood supporter
One of the most abused terms in politics is "teachable moment." Most of the time, when someone says, "This is a teachable moment," what they're really saying is, "On the bright side, we've figured out an additional way to fail. We won't do that again." Besides, it's become threadworn and cliche. The way it's used currently, it's almost meaningless. With that in mind, I present you with an honest-to-goodness teachable moment.

The Atlantic Wire:

The Susan G. Komen foundation has reversed its position on Planned Parenthood, and will continue funding the organization after all, issuing a statement that apologizes "for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives." The move comes after a week of online protest over the news that Komen would end a grant to Planned Parenthood to provide mammograms. It was not a move that Komen took lightly. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg unearthed memos from December that show how the Komen foundation instructed its employees to "obfuscate the issues when confronted with questions about why Komen cut off funding to Planned Parenthood." The letters outline "updated eligibility requirements" that include changes in tax-exemption status and loss of federal funding, among other things.

The first lesson here is the most obvious; if you're a foundation dedicated to fighting a certain disease, don't make politically-motivated funding decisions that will actually increase the overall severity of that disease. Planned Parenthood offers cancer screenings -- for some women, the only access to such screenings they have -- and cutting funding would mean fewer screenings. Fewer screenings means more instances of undiagnosed breast cancer. You can do the math from there.


But the most obvious lesson isn't the one that needs pointing out. The better and less obvious lesson is that when an organization does something you believe is insane, don't just shut up about it. The campaign to restore PP's funding won their battle (or seems to have -- don't let your guard down until all the details are out) with astonishing speed. And they did it in the face of a PR campaign to defend that decision that had been under construction since at least December. Komen unveiled their decision and their big, carefully crafted PR machine started rolling -- and they lost their battle in a matter of days. When they made their announcement, Komen was prepared and their soon-to-be critics were not. And all of Komen's careful preparation got them squat. In their press release, also from The Atlantic's link, we see that PR machine still rolling, but repurposed for damage control, while Komen scrambles to put out enough white flags to satisfy their critics.

Another lesson is that Planned Parenthood is a lot more popular than Republicans seem to believe. They've made the women's health centers a political football, attacking them, running kangaroo court investigations into them, and working to cut their funding in order to throw a bone to their "pro-life" base. They originally saw this as a political asset, but there's now very good evidence that it may be more of a liability. Democrats can stop worrying about publicly defending Planned Parenthood now. It's clear there are plenty who would have their backs. Here in Wisconsin, Scott Walker's attacks on PP should be a part of the criticism leveled against him as he heads into a recall election. The GOP's attacks on Planned Parenthood's funding should make them the pro-breast cancer party.

This is the same sort of teachable moment we arrived at with SOPA and PIPA, as well as the 99-percent movement; if enough people make enough noise, it scares the beejesus out of people in power. Because that power isn't inherent in them, but is sort of borrowed -- collectively -- from everyone else. The "consent of the governed" doesn't apply only to governments, but to institutions as well. We can take it away -- and it pays to remind them of that. Often.


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