by Julie Rovner
Two of the nation's most iconic women's health groups are engaged in a nasty fight that's raising a lot of eyebrows.
But it apparently marks a new chapter in the ongoing abortion war, not to mention the battle to defund Planned Parenthood.
Komen's reason, according to The Associated Press (the organization didn't return NPR's calls or emails), was a new policy forbidding grants to organizations under official investigation. President Cecile Richards confirmed that in an interview.
Planned Parenthood is the subject of an inquiry launched last fall by House Energy and Commerce Investigative Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.
But members of Congress who back Planned Parenthood say that investigation is little more than the same allegations that have long been made - and not substantiated - against the group.
"This is a trumped-up investigation by some Republicans in the Congress who have a vendetta against Planned Parenthood," said Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California.
Planned Parenthood's Richards says she thinks the Komen Foundation has finally been pushed too far by pressure from anti-abortion groups. "I think what's really disturbing about seeing these right-wing attacks on groups like the Komen Foundation is we can't allow bullies to prevent women from getting the health care they need," she says.
But others say the pressure may have come from within the Komen organization itself. They point to the hiring last year of Karen Handel, a vice president who ran for governor in Georgia last year on a platform that included cutting state funds for Planned Parenthood.
Whatever the reason, it has outraged members of Congress like Colorado's Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat.
"I don't see two groups at war with each other," DeGette said. "I see the Komen Foundation declaring war on women's health. Planned Parenthood has done everything they've been asked to do. And with their own private money, with 3 percent of their services or less, they do abortions, which the last I heard were still legal in this country."
Anti-abortion groups, not surprisingly, are praising the Komen Foundation.
"The work of the Komen Foundation has lifesaving potential and should not be intertwined with an industry dealing in death," said Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life. Meanwhile, Steven Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal firm, said it "applauds Komen for seeing the contradiction between its lifesaving work and its relationship with an abortionist that has ended millions of lives."
But despite those plaudits, an even bigger question many are asking is, which of these huge and recognizable groups is likely to win this fight?
Deana Rohlinger, an associate professor at Florida State University who studies women's groups, thinks that while Planned Parenthood may lose this funding battle, it's likely to win the war.
Planned Parenthood is "an organization that has been around for a long time, and this isn't the first time it's seen a hit to its bottom line," she said. "It's gone without before, and I don't imagine that this is going to bring it down."
Komen, on the other hand, she says, has been seen, until now, as more about pink ribbons and T-shirts than politics.
Yet "by taking such a strong move, what they've done is made it more about abortion, potentially, than about women's health," she says. "And that could be problematic in terms of people that support the Komen Foundation. You're talking about a generally popular group, and some folks might reconsider participating."