As the dust settles on the Komen Foundation decisions of last week, I am reminded once again how compartmentalized and politicized the notion of women’s health has become. Boobs and wombs seem to represent the sum total of interest in women’s health. And if the Komen fiasco is any indication, one can’t care about both, because where one stands or one’s employer stands on reproductive issues is now becoming the litmus test that permits or denies access to care. If you are a woman, that is. No such criteria exist in men’s health.
Women’s health is inherently political. We carry the responsibility of continuing the species. With that responsibility inevitably comes intrusion (no pun intended). We seem to forget, however, that women have cancer (not just breast), heart disease, diabetes, immune diseases and the whole host of illnesses that are unrelated to whether or not we bear children. Certainly, whether we have born children impacts these diseases, more so than many are willing to admit, but what we think about birth has nothing to do with our health and should have nothing do with our access to health care.
As a private organization, Komen has every right to change its mission. It has every right to fund only those organizations that align with their political or religious views. If it believes strongly in those views, then it should change its mission and hold to it. However, Komen should be prepared for mass defunding from those who don’t share the same ideology. Early signs of this were evident last week.
There is no delicate or politically adroit way around this issue for Komen and other organizations who believe that views on reproductive rights trump a woman’s access to health care or an agency’s access to research funding. If that is the litmus test, however, then say so. Take the stand and own the results. Tell the world that your organization provides preventative care, supports breast cancer research and other activities only for some women and only for organizations that share your views.
Then let the rest of us get on with the business of providing health care and research for all women.