Editor's note: This is not today's only article on Komen and Planned Parenthood. In addition to our news report, you might also enjoy Albert Mohler's argument that there is "no neutral ground when it Comes to Planned Parenthood," Mollie Ziegler Hemingway's look at "The Komen Fiasco's Silver Lining," and Russell Moore's warning on "the wrong lessons to draw from the Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle."
The eruption of controversy around the Komen Foundation's decision to not renew its funding of Planned Parenthood and their stunning reversal (or was it?) has reinforced two truths: the culture war is a long way from over, and it is hardly a one-sided affair.
Throughout the controversy, the Komen Foundation gave two reasons for their decision to not renew the grants. First, it cited their policy of not giving to organizations who are under investigation (a criteria they seem to have softened in their announcement reversing their original decision). Second, it pointed to a desire to focus funding more narrowly on those who actually provide mammograms. Which Planned Parenthood does not.
On those grounds, the decision to defund Planned Parenthood seems eminently reasonable. Yet those stated positions were interpreted by both pro-life and pro-choice advocates as merely window dressing for the deeper, more politicized reasons. Pro-lifers delighted in their victory, while pro-choicers bemoaned the purported assault on women's health.
Komen valiantly resisted both interpretations, even into the final statement. "This is not a political decision," CEO Nancy Brinker told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell in her first interview on the question. And the most recent statement underlined the message: "We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not."
The idea that "politics" shouldn't enter into health is, of course, a noble one with strong intuitive appeal. No one wants to see breast cancer continue, and if there were a way to end it today (the way we functionally ended polio) people of good faith would find ways to work across platforms and positions in order to make it happen.
Yet the practical questions of pursuing such ends invariably make health political. Health has become political because our bodies are inescapably political. On its most simplistic level, caring for human bodies requires resources. We need food, or in the case under question, women need health care and the money to compensate those who provide it.
Yet the exchange of resources invariably makes health, and health care, about much more than the particular person receiving the help they need. As our eating entangles us in a web of relations, most of which are not our choosing, so the medicine and the medical services we receive.
The question of distributing money for particular goals, like ending breast cancer, is made all the more difficult when the recipients offer a range of services. Let me point out the conundrum by way of an analogous case that many conservatives favor (including me): federal money for faith-based initiatives is predicated on the idea that money can be segmented, such that the money received does not go toward specifically sectarian ends. Yet funding a single service by an organization not only legitimizes it in the public as a provider, but enables it to offer a broader menu of services more efficiently.
My point is not to argue one way or the other about whether the Komen Foundation should have continued funding Planned Parenthood. I am of the opinion that they should not.
But such an environment, the language of "health care" and "public health" stands in danger of being reduced to a Trojan horse for competing social visions. Consider smoking restrictions, for instance, which have become increasingly popular in cities in recent years. The question pits smokers and whatever rights they might have against the concerns and cries of "public health." And when the debate is framed in such terms, it is clear which one will come out ahead.
The problem, of course, with such comprehensive visions is that it can be difficult--if not impossible--to find common ground. Either the smokers get their way, or the public health does. And that is the crossfire that Komen has found itself in, which is why their insistence that politics should not enter into it has been resoundingly and universally ignored.
We should and ought work together to eliminate breast cancer. But the idea of a non-political body is a chimera. The culture wars are still upon us--they have never left us, though they may have gone into hibernation. And beneath them stands the body, with all its needs and failings and dependencies on resources that wrap us in the relationships with our neighbor and with the world beyond.
Matthew Lee Anderson is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why our Bodies Matter to our Faith. He writes at MereOrthodoxy.com, and you can disagree with him on Twitter.
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Other articles on the Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood include:
The Pink Ribbon and the Dollar Sign | The wrong lessons to draw from the Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle. By Russell D. Moore (Feb. 3, 2012)
Komen Reverses Course, Will Not Ban Planned Parenthood from Applying for Funding | The breast cancer awareness foundation had earlier said it would not fund the nation's largest abortion provider. (Feb. 3, 2012)
The Komen Fiasco's Silver Lining | Small comforts (and other sizes) emerge from Planned Parenthood's bullying tactics. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway
After Komen, the Next Big Planned Parenthood Fight | Pro-life groups target $487 million in taxpayer funding for the nation's largest abortion provider. (Feb. 1, 2012)
Pink Stink: Komen Drops Planned Parenthood Support | Move comes after Bible spat, debate on breast-cancer activism. (Jan. 31, 2012)