Komen for the Cure & the Power of Rhetoric

When I was in grade school, my mother was diagnosed with, and recovered from, breast cancer. Two weeks before my high school graduation, after experiencing abdominal pain for about 4 months and trying to convince her doctors that something was wrong, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. After four years of chemo, surgeries, and radiation treatments, my mom died nine days before I graduated from college.

I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot today after reading about Komen for the Cure’s decision to end their partnership with Planned Parenthood. This news certainly hits home for personal reasons—my mom and I walked in many Race for the Cure events before and after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Also, cancer preventions and awareness are important to me, as the chances that I will develop one of those cancers is incredibly high.

What I keep coming back to, though, is the manipulative political rhetoric that has influenced this decision—that because Planned Parenthood provides abortions (as one of its many, many services), Komen for the Cure must be pro-choice to support everything that Planned Parenthood does.

Admittedly, I’ve been immersed in The Practices of Everyday Life for the past few days, and it has certainly influenced my thinking.  de Certeau writes that “both rhetoric and everyday practices can be defined as internal manipulations of a system—that of language or that of an established order” (23-4). And in thinking about rhetoric as manipulation, of the strategies of bodies in power manipulating those without power, without place, I think of the thousands of women who will be affected by Komen for the Cure’s decision. In the ThinkProgress article I read, Marie Diamond wrote, “The charity’s decision has succeeded only in depriving low-income women of cancer screenings that could save their lives.”

With Komen’s support, Planned Parenthood has provided screenings for hundreds of thousands of low-income women and women of color. And this decision, which was pressured by powerful, conservative institutions, stinks of fear-based rhetoric that—intended or not—has serious classist and racist repercussions.

I don’t have any answers for this devastating decision, but I think it’s important to be aware of the very real repercussions that rhetoric has when manipulated by powerful institutions. More importantly, my heart hurts for the thousands of women who will be affected by this decision. Hopefully, de Certeau is right about people without institutional power finding ways to fight back.


7 thoughts on “Komen for the Cure & the Power of Rhetoric

  1. Nicely written ruminations, Allison.I think pointing out that Planned Parenthood provides “many, many” other services besides abortion is key to bolstering support for the organization among centrist conservatives. Now, from the other side, it would be nice if pro-choice advocates took a more somber tone when making their own arguments. Abortion is a serious thing, and while it should indeed be “safe, legal, and rare,” sometimes I get the feeling that over-zealous pro-choicers care only about the first two items in the list.

    1. The message of this post was not about the moral issues or ideologies of abortions. No one, particularly me, is saying that abortions aren’t serious. The term “over-zealous pro-choicers” is surprisingly inconsiderate, implying that women don’t consider the mental and physical implications of their choices or–worse–implying that women do this just because they can. I have no problem making the argument that women should have rights to their own bodies, but this was a much larger argument about the importance of women’s health and the devastation of denying women access to life-saving screenings.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Allison. Clearly the response to Komen says a lot about their decision and I’m glad our local branch spoke out about it. Makes me think twice (maybe) before racing for something else this spring. Lord knows there are hundreds of other races to be run for less-agro, less-corporate organizations than Komen.

    Also, Seth, I’m a bit lost with your response here, wondering how you’ve arrived at the conclusion that “overzealous pro-choicers” are celebrating in their arguments? How you get the impression that they don’t seem to care about the tragedy of an unwanted pregnancy?

    1. Jason, I shouldn’t have put you in the second paragraph of my response. I was reading into your comment. My apologies 🙂 But hopefully the response (if you get through it!) clarifies what I meant.

  3. Actually, Allison, my point was precisely that it’s much more than a “women’s health” issue, at least for the over-zealous folk I was talking about.

    Let’s start with this: Jason, Allison, and the ThinkProgress article framed the issue as one of “depriving women,” “a devastation,” “a threat,” a “manipulation,” a “caving in to right-wing pressure,” a “targeting” of women . . . The right-wing pressure was undoubtedly “fear-based rhetoric,” but these responses to it are just the same. Do you honestly believe that “thousands of women” will be at risk because of this decision? I know you’re both smarter than that. PP was just one of many clinics providing access to free cancer screenings. The money given to PP by Komen was going to go somewhere else to provide the same screenings. Here in Syracuse, for example:

    Every PP in the nation could close down, and, minus the abortions, women would still have access to every service they offered. (That’s why it was easy for Gov. Christie in Jersey to cut funding to PP; he was able to show that the funding was going somewhere else for the exact same services.)

    Writing “over-zealous pro-choicers” may have been inconsiderate, but no more so than insinuating racism on the part of Komen. I think they simply wanted to divert money to other free clinics that aren’t embroiled in political strife. So, I can’t help but question the outcry over Komen’s decision. If these cuts don’t mean fewer free screenings, just fewer free screenings at Planned Parenthood, then I assume (perhaps wrongly) that the outcry is, in the end, about abortion, not “women’s health.”

    My comment was about the rhetoric of the arguers. I certainly wasn’t insinuating that most of the women whose pregnancies are terminated don’t take it lightly. I know that most of them do. Like many of us, I’ve witnessed the seriousness first hand. I was merely pointing out that that seriousness doesn’t surface very often in arguments for keeping abortion legal. And I would indeed say that some of ThinkProgress’s articles on the issue are overzealous, such as when they write this as a condemnation: “Stearns recently wrote a bill that would give money to crisis pregnancy centers so they could buy ultrasound equipment to discourage pregnant women from getting abortions.”

    How dare centers allow women to see the fetuses before they abort them!

    Anyway, I apologize if my comments caused offense. I know that, for you two, it’s a women’s health issue, because you’re both good people trying to do what you think is right in life. I was just suggesting that, for others, it’s not a health issue but a chance to score some pro-choice points. I apologize that my point wasn’t clearer. However, I will admit something because you’re both my friends and I think you can take it in the spirit with which it’s offered: If I had said something about “over-zealous pro-lifers” (or, as in Allison’s article, “anti-abortion activists and their Republican allies”), I doubt either of you would have batted an eye. In your minds, there are clear villains and heroes in this story. In my mind, every story is far too complex for heroes and villains. This is why I’m forever cursed to be a liberal among conservatives and a conservative among liberals 🙂

  4. I just found your blog today. Your post on the Komen debacle is written with such clarity AND passion. Thanks for sharing your experience and common sense.

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