How Planned Parenthood Became a Liability

It’s been quite a week (yet again) for the politicization of women’s health. As Debra Nussbaum Cohen and a Forward editorial noted, the Susan G. Komen foundation pulled its money form Planned Parenthood.

The money, of course, is not the issue. Planned Parenthood has already raised a chunk of what it lost from Komen from outraged supporters, and Komen’s reputation will tumble with many of its own former supporters after this. What was lost here, instead, was a sense of trust. This was a betrayal of the the idea that women’s breast cancer screenings need not be politicized.

But that ship had already had sailed with Komen, a case study in the danger of letting nonprofits get too entangled with corporate interests. “Big Pink” as many call the world of breast cancer awareness behemoths like Komen, has entrenched interests and they sadly don’t always line up with women’s. As Mara Einstein writes at the Ms. Magazine blog :

This echoes a lot of the critique first raised so memorably and brilliantly by Barbara Ehrenreich in her seminal essay “Cancerland.” A taste of Ehrenreich’s acerbic wit and insight on the subject:

But beyond the issues of corproate “pinkwashing” around a serious health issue, here’s another reason that this is such a sad moment: the decision brings with it the knowledge that the right-wing’s steady war on women’s health has begun to take its toll, that the drive to make Planned Parenthood — once a mainstream organization supported by the Nixons and Bushes of the world — into an untouchable political liability is beginning to work.

I have to wonder how much the pro-choice movement’s own PR strategy of focusing on Planned Parenthood support of screenings and pap smears and so on at the expense of focusing on abortions has allowed the group’s ideological opponents to target those very things. I wonder if at some point during the long, long year for women’s healthcare that was 2011 we should have shouted “providing safe abortions is a moral good!” or “abortions are a necessary part of comprehensive health care!” instead of “but, but Planned Parenthood doesn’t just do abortions — they also do cancer screenings!” And then they came for our cancer screenings. Just as abortion has become a pariah, a separate class of healthcare instead of a part of it, wonderful organizations that perform abortions as part of a full range of health services are finding themselves cut off from the mainstream.

Here’s the thing. Women’s health will always be political, because we still live in a patriarchy, one in which every gain is met with backlash. As Ehrenreich notes, wryly, about breast cancer — even its current lack of politicization is political, its wide mainstream support a safe alternative to radical critique of our society and its effect on women’s health:

Ehrenreich writes of the fact that breast cancer used to be taboo because of its associations with women’s bodies and remotely with their sexuality. Now the disease’s major “cure champion” is doing to Planned Parenthood what was once done to cancer survivors.

Amanda Marcotte explains some of this phenomenon at Slate , noting that it’s in the right wing’s interest to separate women’s health into “good girl” and “bad girl” categories, even though the reality is all of women’s health concerns are intimately linked.

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How Planned Parenthood Became a Liability

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