In 2000, when I became a breast cancer activist, one of my first assignments was contacting the senators and members of Congress in my area to encourage their support for the Breast & Cervical Cancer Prevention & Treatment Act. The bill provided Medicaid coverage for uninsured women diagnosed through the Breast & Cervical Cancer Prevention & Screening Act, which had been passed several years earlier. Uninsured women were getting no-cost breast cancer diagnosis but still had no means to pay for treatment.
Sounds easy, but one of my Repub-lican senators didn’t see it that way, and there was another breast cancer group that agreed with him.
When I called on him and spoke with his aide, she shocked me by saying, “Sen. X can’t sign on as a co-sponsor to the bill because all the breast cancer groups aren’t in agreement on it.” I asked her who was opposing it. She told me that Komen did, because they believed treatment for uninsured breast cancer patients should be funded through private donations, like the pink ribbon race. I was speechless. A phone call to another activist confirmed it: Komen was lobbying behind the scenes to kill the bill. A moment later, the aide called back and begged me not to repeat our conversation to anyone.
Thus my lesson about Komen began. They spend a lot of money lobbying for a very different agenda.
The bill passed anyway, and Bill Clinton signed it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of Komen’s (and its founder, Nancy Brinker’s) political maneuvering against legislation supported by other breast cancer advocacy groups.
They fought behind the scenes in my state to prevent the governor from adopting the treatment program. They worked for several years to stall or kill the Breast Cancer & Environmental Research Act. In the end, they eviscerated it by removing new funding for environmental research and substituting a panel to review all research on breast cancer and the environment. Using private funds, they recently collaborated with the Institute of Medicine to develop said report. Released last December, it detailed the same old arguments: that there’s no evidence of links between environmental toxins and cancer and that no further research should be done on the subject since everyone has those toxins in their bodies already. Instead they chose to blame breast cancer patients for getting the disease.
In 2008 and 2009, Komen spent more than $1 million on behind-the-scenes lobbying to weaken the healthcare reform bill.
Brinker, who founded Komen to honor her sister, raised millions for the election of George W. Bush and other GOP lawmakers. She was appointed by Bush to high positions in his administration. She likes to think of herself as a kingmaker and to use her corporate-backed nonprofit organization to further her agenda.
So why the recent choice to defund Planned Parenthood? Komen has been under fire for several years over grants to that group, so why stop now? Recently, Komen has become more overt and partisan in its activities. My theory (and mine alone) is:
1. They’re positioning themselves to play kingmaker in the next election.
2. They’re consolidating alliances with the GOP and anti-choice Democrats in Congress so they can:
• play hell with breast cancer legislation they don’t like in Congress,
• collaborate with the GOP and conservative Dems in efforts to weaken the healthcare act in Congress, and
• pressure any Dem who opposes their legislative agenda. Right now, they’re opposing the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act that would create an oversight panel to focus research funding on a streamlined agenda to find a breast cancer vaccine and a way to stop breast cancer metastasis.
3. They want to use the abortion issue to split the women’s vote, possibly by eroding support for Democrats among Catholics (including Hispanics), independent/swing, and conservative Democratic voters.
This is how they’ve always worked; they’re just being more transparent now. Who’s behind them, besides the GOP? Corporations, pharma companies, and probably a lot of very influential hospital and healthcare associations.
Let’s focus on what is best for breast cancer patients. As always, they’re the pawns in this deadly game. And remember, mammograms don’t cure or prevent breast cancer. Access to affordable high-quality healthcare does.
A version of this article was first published by The Daily Kos. It does not represent the views of any breast cancer organization.