Colorado’s Udall, Bennet weigh response to evolving Komen-Planned Parenthood funding clash

Colorado U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are penning a joint letter on the evolving relationship between the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation and Planned Parenthood to reflect the unique situation developing between the organizations in Colorado, Hill staffers told the Colorado Independent.

The letter comes on the heels of news that roughly two dozen of Udall and Bennet’s colleagues in the Senate have signed on to a letter strongly urging Komen, the high-profile marketing firm behind the breast-cancer pink-ribbon campaign, to reverse the decision it announced this week to cease funding Planned Parenthood breast cancer screening and education efforts.

The Senate letter has reportedly drawn support from a wide spectrum of Democrats, including moderates like Montana’s John Tester. It decried the Komen decision as the latest front in the partisan political battle launched against Planned Parenthood this year that has driven moves inside and outside of government to strip funds from the reproductive healthcare and abortion provider.

“It would be tragic if any woman– let alone thousands of women– lost access to these potentially life-saving screenings because of a politically motivated attack,” the letter reads.

The support the letter has garnered reflects the increasingly high-level pushback Komen has received this week. News outlets have reported the intense back-and-forth that erupted in the wake of the announcement as it unfolded and as it played out on the internet, where supporters and detractors have waged furious social media messaging battles.

Denver Komen is one of select foundation affiliates across the nation that have asked for a waiver from the controversial decision to cut Planned Parenthood funds and has made the case in its public statements for its continuing to fund Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM), pointing to the vital role the embattled organization plays in fighting breast cancer here.

PPRM provides distinctly cost-effective service for Komen. Its Front Range clinics were responsible for 19 percent of all the breast cancer detected through Denver Komen funding last year and it received only $125,000 or 4.3 percent of the $3 million Denver Komen awarded to nonprofits spread across the region, from Douglas County just south of Denver north to the Wyoming border.

Komen also notes that the state budget this year was slashed for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program provided by the Women’s Wellness Connection Program, leaving nearly 5,500 women in Colorado without access to services and opening the door to nearly 90 cases of cancer. In such an environment, Komen suggested, cutting off Planned Parenthood funding would be irresponsible.

There is no word yet on whether members of the U.S. House will weigh in formally on the Komen funding question. Calls to members of Colorado’s delegation were not immediately returned.

“It would be tragic if any woman, let alone thousands, lost access to life-saving screenings because of a politically motivated attack”

Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette is the head of the Pro-Choice Caucus and has been a lead critic of the often specious attacks on Planned Parenthood launched on Capitol Hill this year.

Indeed, although Komen has said its decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood was not motivated by abortion politics, it cited as the cause a controversial congressional investigation launched by Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns into twenty years of Planned Parenthood finances. Komen said that its new grantee criteria preclude funding any organizations under investigation.

Yet the Stearns audit of Planned Parenthood was spurred mainly by anti-abortion activists working off of a largely discredited Americans United for Life report brimming with lurid accusations that, for example, Planned Parenthood abetted human trafficking and child prostitution operations.

DeGette, together with California Rep. Henry Waxman, denounced the congressional investigation as “unwarranted” and as a legalistic cover to “harass and shut down an organization simply because Republicans disagree with the work that it does.”

“We are aware of no predicate that would justify this sweeping and invasive request to Planned Parenthood,” Waxman and DeGette wrote in a letter to Stearns last September as the investigation was being proposed. “It would be an abuse of the oversight process if you are now using the Committee’s investigative powers to harass Planned Parenthood again. Your fervent ideological opposition to Planned Parenthood does not justify launching this intrusive investigation.”

In a Thursday call with reporters, Komen CEO Nancy Brinker walked back reference to the Stearns investigation. The Washington Post reports Brinker said the decision not to continue funding Planned Parenthood “had very little to do with the ongoing congressional probe” but was based primarily on the fact that some Planned Parenthood clinics do not provide mammograms.

“We have decided not to fund, wherever possible, pass-through grants. We were giving them money, they were sending women out for mammograms. What we would like to have are clinics where we can directly fund mammograms.”

Northern Colorado Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains clinics will continue to draw funds, as will clinics in Texas and Southern California, Binker said, because “they are the only provider” of breast health services in the areas they serve.

News outlets and blogs have pointed to the fact that national Komen leadership has been tilted recently by a growing number of hardcore pro-life executives and board members, such as Senior Vice President Karen Handel, who came on last April after running as an anti-Planned Parenthood candidate for governor in Georgia’s Republican primary, and prominent Komen Advocacy Alliance board member Jane Abraham, who is also general chairman of the anti-abortion lobbying organization Susan B. Anthony List.

Leadership at Susan B. Anthony includes former arch-social conservative Colorado Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave. The group has played a key role in the effort to “defund” Planned Parenthood nationwide. This year it kept a running state-by-state scorecard tracking the roughly $60,399,000 in federal and state funding stripped from Planned Parenthood affiliates in eight states.

“Our efforts during the federal budget fight gave Planned Parenthood a black eye,” the organization boasted.

The Atlantic reported today that sources inside Komen are beginning to confirm that the new policy cited to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood– whether ultimately tied to on-site mammogram services, congressional investigations or something else– was adopted specifically to cut off Planned Parenthood and that that effort was spearheaded by anti-abortion personnel led by Handel.

Ties among Komen executives and Congressional Republicans are sure to be scrutinized in the coming days.

Komen board member Jane Abraham’s husband, Spencer Abraham, for example, may draw looks. He was Energy Secretary under George W. Bush and last year joined Republicans in the House, including House Energy Committee member and Planned Parenthood investigator Cliff Stearns, in denouncing the government program that guaranteed loans to Solyndra solar panel company. Abraham’s law firm recently teamed with Florida law firm Roetzel & Andress to form DC-based lobby shop Abraham & Roetzel, which has offices in Columbus, Ohio and Tallahassee, Florida.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains told the Colorado Independent this week that the Denver Komen affiliate has been a “strong advocate” for the work Planned Parenthood does in Colorado.

More than 80 percent of PPRM patients have no health insurance and 62 percent live at or below the federal poverty line, according to The Denver Post.

*Edit note: This story has been updated to include citation to statistics first reported by The Denver Post on the insurance coverage status and income levels of patients served by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. A previous Colorado Independent article credited the Post for the statistics but similar credit was inadvertently omitted from this story.

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