It takes a special kind of skill to completely alienate two separate and fundamentally opposed groups of people. Last week, however, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation managed to accomplish exactly that. They lost the support of people who believe in affordable, accessible heath care for lower-income and uninsured women when they cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and they lost the support of the anti-choice faction when they (sort of) reversed that decision. Here’s the thing. That first group? They’re intelligent. They do research. They’re not going to turn around and support the Komen Foundation again because they decided that buckling under political pressure from the right was maybe a horrifying PR decision. And the anti-choicers? They won’t see one dime of their donation possibly being used for an organization that performs abortions (even though Komen Foundation grants were earmarked for breast cancer screening and mammogram referrals). They’ve lost credibility with pretty much everyone.
With the unimaginable shitstorm on the Komen Foundation’s Facebook page – first from now-former supporters furious about the decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and then from now-former supporters furious about restoring Planned Parenthood’s ability to apply for grants, and while whoever is staffing the page frantically deletes critical posts as soon as they’re posted – it seems that there are no current supporters. Just angry people.
Pro-choice supporters were angry enough for someone to apparently hack Komen’s website to change the home page:
Anti-choice supporters were angry enough about the reversal to demand their donations back and to storm the SGKftC Facebook page spouting their choicest anti-abortion rhetoric, up to and including asserting that the lives of the “unborn babies” are more important than those of uninsured and lower-income women, which is, sadly, nothing new. As much as the anti-choice support was disappointing, if the Komen Foundation had stuck to its decision and rebranded itself (because if there’s something they love, it’s branding!) as an anti-choice organization, there would have been a shift in alignment: pro-choice former supporters would turn their support elsewhere, including directly to Planned Parenthood, as was evidenced in the few days after the original announcement, and the Komen Foundation would have carved out a niche for itself in the right-wing, anti-choice world. By reversing their decision (again, sort of), they angered the right-wing support they had gained, but – and this is the critical point, here – they did not regain the support of the pro-choice former supporters they had infuriated with their original decision. The damage had already been done.
And the Komen Foundation is no stranger to backlash:
- Activists who are anti-“pinkwashing” have long been confused by co-branding efforts with companies whose products may contain carcinogenic ingredients or may be detrimental to women’s health in any number of ways, such as Yoplait, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a perfume commissioned by the Komen Foundation itself.
- In a move that has only recently garnered substantial attention, last April, Komen for the Cure hired Karen Handel, the Republican former Secretary of State of Georgia, who ran a failed campaign for governor of that state on a platform that included defunding Planned Parenthood.
- Susan G. Komen for the Cure has a history of suing smaller non-profits that use any of their trademarked phrases or branding (including the color pink), meaning that both organizations spend money that could be used toward research or outreach on court costs instead.
- The Komen Foundation’s allocation of funds toward administrative costs, including staggeringly high executive salaries, has long been under scrutiny, especially in relation to other non-profits.
So, the questions remain: can Susan G. Komen for the Cure ever bounce back from the circus it created last week? Who will support the foundation now that they’ve managed to alienate both pro- and anti-choice factions? Can the organization withstand the level of scrutiny that it’s been receiving, or is a complete revamping of its staffing and policies necessary before anyone can take it seriously again?
Right now, I think that the most important lesson that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure debacle can teach us is how to sink a billion-dollar charity organization in a few short days. And that lesson is easy to explain: when you play politics with women’s health, everyone loses.