Komen leaders step down months after flap

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Susan G. Komen's top two leaders will leave their current positions in changes announced about six months after the world's leading breast cancer charity reversed its decision to defund Planned Parenthood amid an onslaught of criticism.

Komen announced Aug. 8 its founder, Nancy Brinker, will step down as chief executive officer to become chair of its board's executive committee and concentrate on "revenue creation, strategy and global growth." Komen President Elizabeth Thompson announced her resignation at the same time. The charity also disclosed the departure of two of its board members.

The changes were not related to the controversy over Planned Parenthood, a Komen spokeswoman told the Associated Press (AP).

Komen's decision to stop grants to affiliates of Planned Parenthood -- the country's leading abortion provider -- came under intense criticism when it was reported Jan. 31. After a few days of withering attacks that appeared to be fueled by Planned Parenthood, Komen reversed course, announcing Feb. 3 the organization would remain eligible for its grants.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates –- which do not perform mammograms -- received $487.4 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements in 2009-10, the most recent year for which statistics are available. PPFA clinics performed 329,445 abortions in 2010, which was more than one-fourth of the lethal procedures in the United States for the year.

The widespread news coverage of Komen's original action, the PPFA-orchestrated reaction and Komen's subsequent policy change served a couple of educational purposes for the public:

(1) More Americans, including pro-life advocates, learned the breast cancer foundation is giving to Planned Parenthood. As a result, pro-lifers' donations to Komen and participation in its popular five-kilometer, fund-raising runs/walks that have drawn more than 1.6 million participants annually in the past may decline.

(2) More Americans came to realize Planned Parenthood centers do not offer mammograms but refer women to other clinics for the screenings.

The ensuing six months since the publicity over Komen's on-off defunding decision have been detrimental to its leadership and revenue.

About six executives have resigned, AP reported. The charity's Race for the Cure events in some cities have seen significant drops in attendance and fundraising. For instance:

-- Registration for the Washington, D.C., Race for the Cure fell from 40,000 in 2011 to about 25,000 this year, according to The NonProfit Times.

-- Participation in the Tucson, Ariz., event dropped from about 10,000 to less than 7,300, National Public Radio reported.

-- The Seattle, Wash., race raised only $1.1 million compared to its $1.8 million goal, The NonProfit Times reported.

-- The Los Angeles (Calif.) County race raised about $950,000, far short of the $1.3 million goal, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Typically, news reports have at least implied that the drops in attendance and giving are based on abortion rights advocates' displeasure with Komen's initial defunding decision. Other observers, however, have said pro-lifers' dissatisfaction with Komen's reversal has precipitated much of the falloff. It appears Komen has upset both sides in the abortion debate.

The report of Komen's later-rescinded decision to defund PPFA came about six weeks after LifeWay Christian Resources pulled from Walmart and other stores copies of a special pink-covered Bible that partially benefited the cancer charity. LifeWay's decision came after the Southern Baptist entity learned that Komen provided grants to PPFA affiliates.

Komen is funding about the same number of Planned Parenthood affiliates this year as it did in 2011, The Washington Post reported in April. At least 17 PPFA affiliates are receiving Komen grants this year. Last year, Komen gave grants totaling $680,000 to 18 PPFA affiliates, according to reports.

In deciding to defund Planned Parenthood, Komen said it did so because of a new policy that banned grants to organizations under government investigation. A House of Representatives committee began an investigation of Planned Parenthood in September that is continuing. When it announced its reversal in February, Komen said it would amend the criteria "to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political."


Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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