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Once Again, It’s Not Just Abortion: The Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Global Gag Rule

You've undoubtedly heard about the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation's disastrous decision to cut off nearly $700,000 in funding for Planned Parenthood last week. Disastrous for them, that is. Within days, Komen was backpedaling in the face of massive outrage by Planned Parenthood supporters. 

At first, the Foundation claimed its decision was because of a new shift in policy, cutting funding for any organization under investigation by the government. Then they claimed it was because Planned Parenthood does not directly provide mammograms

None of these claims could conceal the reality that this was a calculated and politically-motivated move to attack Planned Parenthood because of its vital work to provide abortions. (Others have provided more details about the ideological roots of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision: see here.)

But I was furious, along with millions of other people, because once again, anti-abortion ideology was used to undermine women’s right to abortion as well as the right to health care in general. Komen-style scorched-earth strategies aiming to shut down Planned Parenthood for providing abortion simultaneously target many other essential women’s health services.

Abortions make up only 3 percent of all the services provided by Planned Parenthood. The rest include annual check-ups, birth control, and yes, breast cancer screenings. These services are often conveniently ignored by anti-choice activists bent on attacking abortion rights. And let’s not ignore the reality that access to abortion is an indispensable part of women’s reproductive choice.

I remember another time funding was used as a weapon in the arsenal of anti-choice activists. Last week’s debacle brought back ugly memories of the Global Gag Rule. That’s an on-again off-again US foreign policy that has barred organizations that received US funds from counseling, referring or providing information on abortion. That rule was reversed by President Obama upon taking office, but it’s still waiting in the wings for any future anti-choice President.

Because of the Global Gag Rule, under the Bush and other Republican administrations, clinics that lost funding were forced to shut down. In communities in the world’s poorest countries, health care providers were faced with a painful choice. They could give up on offering information about abortion (few offered abortion services in the first place) and end their advocacy for safe, legal abortion in their country. Or they could risk losing the funding that helped them stay afloat and provide—not just reproductive health services—but a full range of desperately-needed care to poor women and their families. Women lost in every scenario.

And women, starting with the poorest, will keep losing until we realize that women deserve the full range of reproductive rights, including abortions. Last week, a PR debacle forced the Susan G. Komen Foundation to reverse its terrible decision. But anti-choice activists and policies are still a threat to women receiving reproductive care, in the US and around the world.

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