A couple months ago, I praised the breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s “democratization,” in founder and CEO Nancy Brinker’s word, of a disease that certainly afflicts all but disproportionately afflicts Jewish women (specifically women of Ashkenazic descent, one in 40 of whom possess a genetic mutation that gives them a greater likelihood of getting breast cancer). Yesterday, Komen made itself a little less democratic, halting its funding to Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization that congressional Republicans have criticized for including abortions and related functions among its panoply of services. Abortion services in fact takes up three percent of Planned Parenthood’s patient care; cancer screening and prevention, by contrast, takes up 16 percent.
As Jill Lepore reported recently, Planned Parenthood actually began much the same way Komen did. Though its founder, Margaret Sanger, was not Jewish, its original receptionist was fluent in Yiddish and it opened on the Lower East Side to serve poor Italian and Jewish women. Its first handbills were translated into Italian and Yiddish; its first landlord was named Rabinowitz, and he gave them a discount because he liked what they did. Later, in the 1960s, Planned Parenthood grew thanks to the efforts of Jewish president Alan F. Guttmacher.
But here’s the difference: those who most need Komen are represented by the people who run Komen; those who most need Planned Parenthood—poor women, including the African-Americans whom Guttmacher was reaching out to—are not. Despite depending on the donations of the wealthy (and government funding), Planned Parenthood altruistically goes beyond its natural constituency. Komen, with this decision, appears not to be, and in fact seems increasingly concerned with rich women, who might be able to afford their own care. “Meet Women Whose Lives Have Been Saved By Early Breast Cancer Screenings,” reads Planned Parenthood’s homepage. There may be fewer to meet in the future because of this decision.
AP Exclusive: Amid Abortion Debate, Komen Cancer Charity Halting Grants to Planned Parenthood [AP/WP]
Related: Birthright [The New Yorker]
Earlier: Pink Is Jewish
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.