Research Brief --

Professors Lori Baralt of California State University, Long Beach and Tracy A. Weitz of University of California, San Francisco published a commentary in Women’s Health Issues (PDF) [2012; 22-6:e509-e512] about the Komen-Planned Parenthood Controversy and the long history of politicization that preceded the incident. They argue that the scandal was largely presented in mass media as the first time political interests interfered with Komen’s practices. Far from being an isolated matter, however, Komen’s organizational decision-making about grants to Planned Parenthood is part of a longer political and economic history.

Feminist health scholars have offered critiques of breast cancer politics and Komen’s modus operandi for more than a decade. [See: Kasper and Ferguson (eds.) 2000; King 2006; Klawiter 2008; Ley 2009; McCormick 2010; Sulik 2011.] Branding strategies and fundraising lend themselves to conflicts of interest, misinformation, and simple solutions to the complexity of breast cancer. Social and environmental factors that could impinge corporate relationships are downplayed or ignored. Baralt and Weitz also note that concerns about Komen’s “prioritization of organizational branding at the expense of supporting smaller breast cancer organizations (Bassett, 2010), questionable fundraising partnerships (Singer, 2011), and reluctance to address potential environmental causes of breast cancer (Silverstein, 2011)” have in recent years made headlines beyond academic circles. Breast cancer groups do not share the same interests or agree on strategies, but it wasn’t until the Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle that the political undercurrents of breast cancer advocacy surfaced in the mainstream (p. e509).

The lesson? “It took breast cancer, the sweetheart of health-related causes, and abortion, the most controversial women’s health issue, colliding through the Komen–Planned Parenthood controversy this year to make the public take a step back and start to question the influence of politics in breast cancer advocacy…When women’s health advocates recognized politics at play in a breast cancer organization, they did not stand for it…Now, we need to look beyond the clear politics of abortion and recognize and challenge the more insidious ways that politics are at play in breast cancer” (p. e511).

Note: Drs. Baralt and Weitz are both members of the Board of Directors for Breast Cancer Action.

Source: Lori Baralt and Tracy A. Weitz. 2012. ”The Komen–Planned Parenthood Controversy: Bringing the Politics of Breast Cancer Advocacy to the Forefront,” Women’s Health Issues [22-6:e509-e512].


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