The Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle

I understand the point of some of this discussion – that the Komen Foundation’s decisions are more influenced by politics than perhaps they should be, considering that their aim is to address a women’s health issue. However, two points trouble me in this article. 1 – defining pregnancy as a disease and 2 – the comment about women’s health care not meeting the same standard as for men.

If we define pregnancy as a disease and therefore contraception and access to abortion as the cure, we remove any responsibility of the participants – male and female – in causing it. As a disease, pregnancy prevention no longer has any element of personal choice and individual responsibility. While I know that there are many cases where prevention and/or termination of pregnancy is in everyone’s best interests (especially the child’s, whose life would have been overwhelmingly challenged from the start), there are also many cases where pregnancy is the consequence of bad choices. If we consider pregnancy just as a disease, neither women nor men need to consider themselves responsible for it, which is exactly the thesis of anti-abortionists. Contraception and termination need to be available to people, but for use in prevention and mitigation of the consequences of pregnancy, not in the treatment of it as a disease.

As for women’s health care vs. men’s, as a woman I benefit from health care and information that includes a regular pap test, regular breast exam, in some places access to vaccine for cancer prevention, and a deluge of both information about these diseases and their risks and a plethora of fundraising and government funding that is directed towards research and care. I would consider that prostate cancer is the closest equivalent in men to breast/ovarian/cervical cancer in women, and yet support and funding for implementation of PSA screening is non-existent and fundraising and funding for prostate cancer research is significantly lower than for women’s cancers. The basis for not funding PSA screening is that it hasn’t been shown to significantly improve things, but it does improve detection somewhat, and so denying access to it means reducing access to care for men. Recent research indicates that mammogram screening may not be necessary at the currently prescribed rate or for certain populations, and yet the outcry against any reduction in the recommended screening quickly overwhelms any political will to rationalize those programs, on the rationale that to reduce mammogram screening support would be anti-feminist. So these decisions are not based on facts, but on political influence.

Ultimately for Planned Parenthood, the funding being withdrawn by Komen was specifically designated for breast cancer screening. Therefore, Planned Parenthood should still be able to go on providing the other health services that it provides, and with this latest publicity is likely doing extremely well in fundraising to support those and other services. So the loss of the Komen funding will not threaten their ability to provide the pregnancy management services that are their core purpose. People who were giving money to Komen because they wanted to support women’s health – rather than the narrower focus of breast cancer – can now give their funds directly to Planned Parenthood.

Update: So now the decision is reversed but the controversy lingers, with the issues now inextricably linked. One of the strengths and weaknesses of social media is that nothing can ever be completely retracted. The fingerprints of the issue remain forever.

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