By Sam Baker - 02/04/12 12:20 PM EST
The push to privately defund Planned Parenthood didn’t just fail last week — it backfired into a potentially serious setback for the group’s most ardent critics.
Abortion rights opponents were thrilled when the Susan G. Komen foundation decided it would stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood. The move initially seemed to open up a new, private-sector front in a campaign that had been focused on eliminating Planned Parenthood’s state and federal funding.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tied the Komen controversy to congressional Republicans’ attacks and the pressure from abortion-rights opponents to chip away at her organization.
“Bullying and trying to make political women’s access to health care is just a losing political strategy,” she said. “I hope there are members of Congress who will rethink their attacks … on Planned Parenthood and on women’s health.”
Anger over Komen’s funding decision spread quickly through Facebook and Twitter, a grassroots outcry that hit harder than familiar Washington infighting.
The sense of surprise was on display Thursday when MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell interviewed Komen founder Nancy Brinker. Mitchell noted her longstanding support for Komen but said, “I come to you today expressing the anger of a lot of people.”
That anger energized Planned Parenthood’s supporters and also helped spur a flood of donations. Richards said Planned Parenthood raised about $3 million off of the controversy — far more than the roughly $700,000 it would have lost from Komen, if Komen had actually cut off its grant money.
“I’ve never seen anything catch fire like I have the outpouring of people from all walks of life,” Richards said.
NARAL Pro-Choice America also saw greater potential in the Komen saga.
“Let’s build on this great victory,” NARAL said in a statement. “Right now, politicians in Congress are trying to take away contraceptive coverage for women. Let’s raise our voices to stop this additional attack on health-care options and score another win for women.”
Ultimately, Komen became a lesson in how not to handle a public relations crisis. Between its initial decision, its lackluster response and its prompt reversal, the charity ended up making enemies across the political spectrum.
Americans United for Life, which had pushed Komen to sever its ties with Planned Parenthood, did not respond to a request for comment on the group’s reversal Friday. But Republican lawmakers said they were disappointed and that Komen had it right the first time.
“I’m extremely disappointed in Komen’s decision to restore Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for funding,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in a statement. “While Komen now claims that they don’t want their mission to be ‘marred by politics,’ unfortunately it seems that Komen caved to political pressure from the pro-abortion movement and its enforcers in the media.”