Politicizing Women’s Health
I had other plans for this month’s column – recent interviews I’ve done have discussed the presidential race and the Mormon patriarchy – the incredible lack of interest in the US in a story about a link between the London Olympics and Dow Chemicals’ refusal to accept responsibility for the Bhopal industrial disaster twenty years ago- but I have to save those for future columns. I want to discuss the frightening trend of linking women’s health and women’s rights to politics.
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has done some good work but there have been whispers that there is some rot hiding behind those pink ribbons. The awareness they’ve helped build about breast cancer is undeniable and heroic. A disease which was once a tragic secret is now openly discussed and there is no telling how many women’s lives have been saved because of that.
But dig a little deeper and there are some disturbing questions. The Washington Post summarizes:
Amanda Marcotte points out in Slate, Komen was already “under serious scrutiny” by critics who believe “the organization cares more about shoring up their image than making real progress in the fight for women's health.”
Another controversy for the charity has been the growing argument that Komen indulges in “pinkwashing,” or using breast cancer and the ubiquitous pink ribbon to promote unhealthy corporate products (like KFC chicken), in exchange for donations. Komen argues that that donations are much needed, having received over $55 million a year from corporate partnerships, according to USA Today.
Komen has also been criticized for aggressively trying to protect the phrase “for the cure,” as well as the usage of the pink ribbon. The charity has taken legal action against other nonprofits or organizations for using either one, sparking the Wall Street Journal to write “nonprofits aren’t so generous when a name’s at stake.” Komen’s legal counsel argued that a mix-up in names could see a donation go to the wrong charity.
This can be seen as piling on an organization that’s taken a political stand by pulling funding for Planned Parenthood. Maybe it is. Or maybe it’s time to take a closer look at what’s behind those pink ribbons.
The consensus seems to be that the Komen Foundation caved in to pressure from Conservatives both within and outside the organization. It’s a move that may well backfire – the reaction seems to be outrage at Komen and growing support for Planned Parenthood.
Kudos to Komen CEO Nancy Brinker for this statement once it became clear that public outrage over its decision was overwhelming: “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.”
But the Washington Post points out that the reported “reversal” of its decision may not be all it appears to be. Komen, according to Brinker, wants to eliminate “pass through” funding – meaning since Planned Parenthood refers clients for mammograms but doesn’t do them itself, it may be turned down for funding for a different reason than the Congressional investigation originally cited as the issue.
This is just the latest in what appears to be a Conservative agenda to make women’s health a political target. Each of the GOP candidates is Pro-Life, with Rick Santorum going so far as to say he would require all women are girls to carry pregnancies to term, even if they’re the victims of rape or incest. They shouldn’t be put through the additional trauma of an abortion, he says.
Women’s rights are under attack. Women’s ability to make their own decisions is under assault. Women’s health is a political football.
An op-ed in the New York Times asks “What’s a Republican feminist to do?” The GOP has taken a hard right turn, leaving no room for Republican women who believe women have the right to affordable health care and a say in decisions impacting their own bodies.
I will confess, even after 24 years of motherhood and a long time on this planet, I am torn on the issue of abortion. I absolutely support women’s right to choose. I know women who have chosen abortion after a heart-rending, agonizing, clear-headed analysis of their situation, their health and their ability to care for a child. But I am horrified to know of women who treat abortion as their chosen method of birth control. Every woman has the right to birth control – to the means to prevent pregnancy. Using abortion to substitute for preventative birth control is, to me, a perversion of the right to choose.
But I do not believe government should tell even these women that they do not have that choice. It is not a legal issue – it’s a moral one.
Women are under attack in the name of morality. Religions, the most conservative of which seem to be indistinguishable from political conservativism, want to dictate what women can and cannot do quoting the authority of their God. The political ultra-Conservatives, the Mormon religion (check out Sally Denton’s NYT op-ed on Mormonism and patriarchy) and other religious ultra-Conservatives all have a foundation of patriarchy.
The foundational belief is that women need to be protected from themselves – religion and government are the Big Daddy who will set the rules.
There’s no rational, logical basis for this argument. And we need to debunk it at every opportunity.
It’s a shame that the Komen Foundation apparently allowed itself to put politics before women’s health. The good news is that we are not so numbed and hopeless that we allowed this assault on women’s health to go unremarked.
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Barnett is the producer and host of 51%
The Women’s Perspective,
a weekly women’s issues radio show carried nationally on NPR,
ABC and Armed Forces Radio stations. 51% The Women’s Perspective
is part of WAMC
- Northeast Public Radio’s national productions. "The View From Outside," Susan Barnett’s new collection of short fiction, is available in eBook format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble through Hen House Press. You can connect with her on Facebook.
Photo by DB Leonard.