NEW YORK — For leaders of the nation’s pre-eminent breast-cancer charity, it was a firestorm they didn’t see coming — and couldn’t withstand.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure on Friday abandoned plans to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. The dramatic retreat followed a three-day furor that resounded across the Internet, in Congress and — perhaps most tellingly — among Komen affiliates who openly rebelled, suggesting the leadership had bowed to anti-abortion pressure.
“We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives,” a Komen statement said.
Komen had adopted criteria excluding Planned Parenthood from future grants for breast-cancer screenings because it was under government investigation, citing a probe launched by a Florida congressman at the urging of anti-abortion groups.
“We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political,” Komen said Friday. “That is what is right and fair.”
As a result, Komen said, “we will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants.”
Komen officials were unavailable for further comment on how they came to change their plans. There was no indication that the organization had come under pressure from its corporate partners. But many of Komen’s own affiliates nationwide had objected to cutting off the grants, which totaled $680,000 in 2011. An Aspen, Colo., affiliate announced Thursday that it would defy the new rules a nd continue grants to its local Planned Parenthood partner, while all seven of Komen’s California affiliates said they “strongly opposed” the planned cutoff.
In addition, Komen was inundated with negative comments via emails, on Twitter and on its Facebook page. Many of the messages conveyed a determination to halt gifts to Komen — organizer of the popular Race for the Cure events —because of the decision.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood was reporting an outpouring of donations, large and small, that totaled $3 million between Tuesday evening and Friday afternoon. Planned Parenthood said the funds would be used to expand its breast health services, which already provide nearly 750,000 breast exams each year.
Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, said in a telephone news conference that she was astonished by the flow of donations and the often emotional support expressed for her organization on the Internet.
“This was simply a story, when it broke, it just caught fire,” she said. “This kind of political bullying — folks are just saying, ‘Enough.”’
Anti-abortion groups had pressed Komen for years to end its partnership with Planned Parenthood, even to the extent of recalling pink Bibles that were benefiting Komen and boycotting its Race for the Cure events.
Abortion foes applauded earlier this week when the funding cutoff was reported, and were dismayed by Friday’s turnaround.
“The Susan G. Komen Foundation has caved in to the demands of radical abortion apologists,” said Douglas R. Scott, Jr., of Life Decisions International, which had been mulling whether to remove Komen from a “boycott list” of Planned Parenthood partners.
Scott said Komen should have anticipated a backlash once word of its funding cutoff plans became public.
The charity, Scott said, “has either engaged in a nasty ruse … or it is led by the most naove people on earth.”
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, accused Planned Parenthood of employing a “scorched-earth strategy to force compliance with their pro-abortion agenda.”
“I don’t find it surprising that Komen is dancing around trying to get their way out of this,” said Yoest, a breast-cancer survivor. “Who wants to go up against a billion dollar organization which is perfectly capable of using thug tactics against even their friends?”
In Washington, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said he would press ahead with his investigation of Planned Parenthood, including assertions that it has improperly used public funds for abortions.
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania and a staunch for of abortion, said he was disappointed by Komen’s shift. “It’s unfortunate that public pressure builds to provide money to an organization that goes out and actively is the No. 1 abortion provider in the country,” he said.
But members of Congress who support abortion-rights were elated by Komen’s statement.
“It’s a great day when our deeply held belief that breast cancer can only be wiped out if we all work together has triumphed over right-wing politics,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
It’s possible that Komen may, in the coming years, find ways of cutting ties with Planned Parenthood by other means. Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker, in a news conference Thursday, spoke of shifting more grant money to organizations which provide mammograms themselves — in contrast to Planned Parenthood’s practice of referring women elsewhere for mammograms.
Asked about this Friday, Richards said she was optimistic the renewed partnership would endure because of the close relationships between many Komen and Planned Parenthood local affiliates.
Nowhere was that solidarity more evident than in Aspen, where the Komen affiliate had placed an ad in a local newspaper declaring that it would defy the national edict and continue grants to its Planned Parenthood counterpart.
Marcia Goshorn, president of the Komen board in Aspen, said she was thrilled at Friday’s turnaround by the national leadership.
“I think they listened, and I’m proud of that,” she said.
Komen said it was immediately starting an outreach to its affiliates and supporters to get the charity back on track.
“We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue,” Komen’s statement said. “We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics — anyone’s politics.”
Experts on the nonprofit world followed the week’s events with keen interest and marveled at the rapid spread of the backlash against Komen.
“It is very tough for non-profits that are caught in these culture wars to figure out what to do,” said Stacey Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “I think they (Komen) underestimated how many women who supported them really cared deeply about this issue … I don’t think they expected that kind of reaction.”
Among those welcoming the Komen shift was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made a $250,000 donation to Planned Parenthood after the funding cutoff was announced.
“I’m glad that in the end they came to the right decision,” said Bloomberg, who told MSNBC he will also continue to support Komen and urged others to do the same.
In the end, he said, “this is maybe a refresher to all of us” that both groups “do great work.”