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Komen Says Efficiency, Not Politics, Drove Planned Parenthood Change

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has rejected charges that its decision to discontinue funding for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America was politically motivated.

In a statement posted on its website and a video on YouTube late Wednesday, Komen said its action had been "mischaracterized" so the organization needed to "set the record straight."

In the video, Nancy G. Brinker, who founded and leads the organization, said that the decision was made as part of a broad effort to use donations more efficiently.

The foundation regretted the impact of its new policy on groups such as Planned Parenthood, Brinker said. But she denied politics played any role and called accusations against Komen "scurrilous" and a "dangerous distraction" from the battle against breast cancer.

"Susan G. Komen will always fight for and serve the poeple who need us the most. We won't rest until every woman — rich, poor, insured or uninsured — can face a life without breast cancer," said Brinker, whose sister died from breast cancer. "That was my promise to my sister and my promise to you."

The foundation, known for its pink ribbon campaigns and Race for the Cure fundraisers, is a powerhouse in the world of breast cancer in the United States, raising billions of dollars for breast cancer research, care and advocacy.

"In the breast cancer world, they're huge," said Susan Woodof George Washington University. "They raise lots of money for breast cancer research and access to mammograpy and access to other breast cancer screening and breast health activities."

So Wood and many other women's health advocates are furious about Komen's decision to cut off funding to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"It was really a shock and obviously distressing and very disappointing," Cecile Richards told NPR's Julie Rovner. Since the controversy erupted, donations to Planned Parenthood have surged, the group said.

But this isn't the first time the well-known breast cancer advocacy group has been the focus of controversy.

"In the past, they've let women down by insisting that the FDA should continue to approve Avastin as an effective treatment for breast cancer when new evidence sadly showed, that it's not," said Cindy Pearson with the National Women's Health Network. "They've also insisted that screening for breast cancer start at a young age and be very frequent when evidence shows it's not that much of a slam dunk anymore."

The latest controversy appears to have begun last month. An evangelical Christian group called Lifeway was selling pink bibles for Komen. But Lifeway discovered Komen was giving Planned Parenthood money.

"As soon as people figured out the link between Komen and Planned Parenthood — that there was a funding link there — Lifeway pulled all the bibles off the shelves immediately," said Amy Black, a political scientist at Wheaton College outside Chicago who studies evangelical Christians. "This was the kind of thing that captured a lot of activists' attention."

Some critics speculate that Komen was particularly susceptible to pressure from activists because of Brinker's political ties.

"One of the things many women don't understand is that the founder of Komen, Nancy Brinker, has had a long-standing and supportive relationship with the Bush family with the Bush presidencies, with the Republican party and on many occasions has supported policies that most supporters of Komen probably wouldn't approve of," said Judy Norsigian of the Our Bodies, Ourselves, the popular women's health guide.

Norsigian and other critics also pointed out that Komen recently hired Karen Handel, a politician from Georgia who opposes abortion, to serve as a key vice president.

It remains unclear how the move will affect Komen in the long term.

"To continue a partnership with Planned Parenthood would have significant political consequences that would harm them. To end the partnership with Planned Parenthood would have significant political consequences that also would cause harm," Black said. "Because one side or the other is not going to be happy whatever the Komen foundation decides to do."

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Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.