STOKING FIRE: Anti-Choicers Target Komen Foundation

Editor’s Note: A correction was made to this article at 6:54 pm Tuesday, September 15th, to reflect a mistake in the fundraising totals achieved by Susan G. Komen.  The Foundation raised $60 million last year alone and has raised $450 million over the course of the 27 years since it was founded.

In the early 1980’s Dr. Joel Brind, an endocrinologist at
New York’s Baruch College, began reporting a link between abortion and breast
cancer. According to Brind, any interruption in the hormonal changes caused by
pregnancy would increase a woman’s breast cancer risk exponentially.

In the nearly 30 years since Brind’s so-called discovery, a
bevy of international researchers have refuted his claim. The National Cancer
Institute of the National Institutes of Health, for one, convened a workshop
involving more than 100 of the world’s leading pregnancy experts in 2003.
“Having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk
of developing breast cancer,” they concluded.

Sadly, this well-publicized finding—corroborated by the
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Cancer
Society, and the American Medical Association–has failed to quiet Brind and
his anti-choice followers. Evidence notwithstanding, Brind’s cancer claim is
consistently repeated on anti-abortion websites and in printed materials.

But apparently, preaching to their own hasn’t gotten the
antis adequate play, so they are now targeting Susan G. Komen (SGK) for
the Cure, a group that bills itself as “the world’s largest grassroots
network of breast cancer survivors and activists.”

SGK is indeed huge.  Last year alone it raised $60 million, and in the 27 years since its founding
has raised more than $450 million for research into the causes and treatments of
breast cancer, a disease that hits more than 190,000 women and nearly 2000 men
a year. What’s more, the group provides easy-to-read data on treatment options
for patients and their loved ones; resources for those looking to engage in
activism or advocacy are also available.

While you probably think this sounds pretty benign, Catholic
diocese across the U.S. and organizations
like STOPP International, an affiliate of the American Life League, disagree
and have dubbed Komen a menace to women. They’ve also launched a boycott of
SGK’s Race for the Cure.

The naysayers have two objections.  Want to stop breast cancer? they ask. Then advise women to
begin reproducing when they are young and warn them about the abortion/breast
cancer connection. Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a frequent speaker at National Right
to Life Committee events, goes so far as to call full-term pregnancy  “protective,” as if women who give
birth are somehow exempt from the disease.

Not surprisingly, this contention has gained little
traction, even among right-wingers, so the anti-Komen posse has trucked out a
reliable anti-abortion bugaboo, Planned Parenthood. Since its founding, Komen
has provided grants to outside agencies, including–you guessed it—the
reproductive health giant. According to John Hammarley, Senior Media Advisor to
SGK, “Komen reaches out to the
research community as well as those providing education, treatment, and
screening for women, all in the name of trying to find cures for breast cancer
and treating it as best we can in the meantime.  Komen affiliates invest hundreds of millions of dollars
every year in programs in their communities that are needed by women and men
touched by this disease.”

About 20 of the 125 state Komen affiliates provide grants to
local Planned Parenthood clinics. The money, Hammarley  adds–approximately $800,000 in 2008—is used
exclusively for breast cancer screening and educational programming, from
information on how to do breast self exams to nutrition. Not a dime, Komen
staff assures donors, pays for the provision of abortion or other reproductive
health services. Instead the funds are used to provide diagnostic evaluations
for uninsured and under-insured women who have no other access to professional
breast exams.

This assurance does little to assuage Dr. Lanfranchi. “If
aborting a pregnancy increases the risk of cancer and Planned Parenthood is the
nation’s number one abortion provider, Komen is contributing to increasing the
amount of breast cancer,” she rails. Similarly, Jim Sedlak of STOPP International
carps that Planned Parenthood is 
“an organization that exploits women, corrupts youth, and increases the
likelihood of breast cancer by promoting contraception and abortion.” 

The illogic is staggering, not unlike the fear-mongering put
forward by those who see healthcare reform as a Yellow Brick Road to

Still, there is good news to report.  Although it’s far too soon to predict
the upshot of the federal healthcare battle, by all accounts the anti-Komen
campaign has fallen flat, doing little to hamper the group’s ongoing efforts.  At the same time, Koman staff have had
to respond to anti-choice criticism and recently hired two Catholic ethicists
to rebut Diocesan efforts to stop the faithful from supporting SKG. “The good
that Komen does and the harm that would come to many women if Komen ceased to
exist or ceased to be funded would seem to be a sufficiently proportionate
reason” for Christian support, the commentators wrote.

There’s obviously a lot at stake.  Komen relies on corporate support for much of its research
and programming; 24 companies currently donate $1 million and another 70 donate
$100,000 to SGK each year.  Clearly, should a large-scale boycott catch fire, it will
have devastating consequences for Komen’s work with patients, their families,
and those interested in cancer research.

Despite the 
threat, SGK’s Hammarley dismisses the opposition. “Our friends and
supporters have been our strength throughout Komen’s history,” he says. “They
have been stalwart in their support. Those opposed to Komen’s involvement with
Planned Parenthood-sponsored programs have not impacted that support. Sponsors
and affiliates have been threatened with boycotts, but thankfully we haven’t
seen sponsors retreat.”

Let’s champion their resolve.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • john-hammarley

    Many thanks for your comprehensive coverage of this important topic. Anytime we can shed light on the truth — based on the latest and best scientific evidence available — everyone benefits.
    One slight correction: last year ALONE Susan G. Komen for the Cure invested $60 million in research aimed at curing breast cancer. During the course of our 27-year history, Komen for the Cure has raised and invested more than $450 million for crucial research.
    Because of the support we continue to enjoy from individual and corporate donors and sponsors, Komen has been involved and has helped support every major advance and breakthrough we’ve seen during the past nearly three decades.
    Thank you again for your coverage.
    John Hammarley
    Senior Media Advisor
    Susan G. Komen for the Cure

  • kate-ranieri

    You write that the illogic of the antichoicers’ abortion-breast cancer connection is staggering. I’d agree and add that the totality of their illogical information and visual imagery amounts to the one of the most detrimental propaganda campaigns since the red scare of the past century—only this time the harm falls exclusively on the backs of women and their healthcare providers. The biased information that antichoicers use defies logic. For example, there were 211, 240 new cases of breast cancer in 2005 (CDC) while there were 1.21 million abortions. Using the antichoicers’ logic, one would expect higher numbers of breast cancer following 2005. In fact, the estimated number of new cases of breast cancer in 2009 is 192,370 (CDC). So, if you consider that there were more than 45 million abortions between 1973 through 2005 (Guttmacher), using antichoicers logic, there should be just as many if not more cases of breast cancer. Some of the protesters at the Allentown Womens Center (in PA) even claim that women who have abortions are 400 times as likely to have breast cancer. Imagine that!


    Just as the image they use in the pamphlets, web sites and posters defy logic, the words they use defy logic. Logic must be a socialistic agenda because antichoicers Just Say No!

  • cpcwatcher

    Leave it to the so-called “right to lifers” to detract from one of the most important foundations in women’s health. How very pro-life, boycotting a group that has saved countless lives. Do they see their hypocrisy in plain sight or do we need to hit them over the head with it?

    Crisis pregnancy centers peddle this “breast cancer-abortion link” crap almost universally. It’s amazing some get away with calling themselves “clinics” with all that horrendous misinformation.

  • qualine

    Komen’s support of Planned Parenthood is clearly inconsistent with their mission statement, “Our promise is to save lives and end breast cancer forever.”  On Komen’s web site, under “risk factors for breast cancer,” they list never having children or delaying having children until age 35 as factors which raise the risk of breast cancer.  It is more than peculiar then that Komen, who also lists the use of birth control pills as a risk factor for breast cancer, gives money to an organization whose primary purpose is to help women prevent or delay pregnancy with birth control pills, or do away with a pregnancy that is underway through abortion, often times for very young women who are in the most cancer-susceptible period of their lives.  Regardless of what Planned Parenthood assures Komen they will use the money for (breast health education, screening and treatment programs), money is fungible and Komen’s donations free up money for Planned Parenthood to use however they wish.  I find it insulting that Komen presumes the public does not get this; that they presume we are so naive we cannot see the analogy of how giving a drug addict $500 in cash to get a medical checkup frees up $500 more to spend on drugs, even though the addict promises she will use the cash to get her medical checkup.  Planned Parenthood’s own web site reveals that the number of mammograms they perform each year is going down while the number of abortions they perform is increasing.  What are they doing with Komen’s dollars, for heaven’s sake?

    Why doesn’t Komen set up their own Susan G. Komen for the Cure Mammography Centers?  Why don’t they partner with independent mammography centers that have no stake in the abortion business. This would more certainly guarantee that women who need screening mammography would receive it.  Furthermore, it would disentangle the Komen name from Planned Parenthood and Komen wouldn’t have to keep checking back with the Catholic Church for clarification on the morality of their activities.

  • qualine

    Eleanor says, "Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a frequent speaker at National Right to Life Committee events, goes so far as to call full-term pregnancy “protective,” as if women who give birth are somehow exempt from the disease." Interestingly, other organizations/experts who acknowledge that a first full-term pregnancy is protective against breast cancer include, Susan G. Komen For the Cure, The National Cancer Institute, The American Cancer Society and Planned Parenthood. This is not mythology, as Eleanor might have you believe. It is well accepted physiology. In fact, the 2007-2008 Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) Project headed by Lewis A. Chodosh, MD, PhD of the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center explored ways to identify hormonal treatments that may mimic protective effects of full-term pregnancy on the breast. Likewise, recent literature discusses how stem cells in the breast are believed to be the site for some cancers to form. Microscopic analysis of the proteins produced by these stems cells reveals that breast cells to not fully mature until they undergo lactation. Hmmmm…..