Malignant Politics

Antiabortion zealots want to shut off funding to any organization that performs abortions—even if those organizations also provide low-cost access to life-saving medical procedures like breast-cancer screenings. And yet they insist on calling themselves “pro life.”

That’s the lesson reasonable people will take away from the recent controversy involving the nation’s best-known breast-cancer advocacy group, the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Komen, in an act of political and moral cowardice, announced that it would no longer fund Planned Parenthood’s breast-cancer screenings because the organization has come under relentless attack from antiabortion groups. Planned Parenthood, of course, also provides contraception and abortion services in addition to breast-cancer screenings.

Thanks to the quick action of tens of thousands of women, Komen reversed its decision. That’s a good result, but the controversy itself remains very troubling. Why did such a well-known and admired organization feel the need to defund Planned Parenthood in the first place?

The answer is that antiabortion zealots have poisoned the debate over abortion and contraception, as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s frightening campaign has demonstrated. In their world, Planned Parenthood is nothing short of evil, and any organization that gives a penny to it is judged to be a coconspirator. Never mind the possibility that women surely will die without access to the organization’s breast-cancer screenings.

The public outrage over Komen’s original decision is heartening, for it shows that some people understand what is happening in this cultural war over abortion and women’s health.

That battle, however, is far from over.