By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure on Thursday denied political pressure from anti-abortion groups had anything to do with its decision to cut off funding for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, trying to contain a crisis between the two leading women's health groups.
In a 3-1/2 minute video statement posted on its website and the video site YouTube, the Komen foundation said critics have mischaracterized its decision to deny new money to Planned Parenthood and warned the controversy could distract attention from the struggle against breast cancer.
"We will never bow to political pressure," Komen founder Nancy Brinker said in the video.
"The scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful to so many of us," she said. "But more importantly, they are a dangerous distraction from the work that still remains to be done in ridding the world of breast cancer."
The Komen foundation, known for its pink ribbon symbol and Race for the Cure fundraisers, has collected more than $1.9 billion for breast cancer research and programs. It has affiliates in more than 100 U.S. cities and 50 countries.
Planned Parenthood provides abortion, birth control and other health services to women. It had received about $700,000 annually from Komen to provide access to mammograms for low income women.
Brinker said the funding change reflects a new internal strategy aimed at using donation money more effectively by eliminating duplicate grants and tightening eligibility rules.
That includes withholding funding from a group under investigation by U.S. authorities. Republican lawmaker Cliff Stearns is probing Planned Parenthood over its use of taxpayer funds.
"Regrettably, this strategic shift will affect any number of long-standing partners. But we have always done what is right for our organization, for our donors and volunteers," she said.
UPROAR ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Planned Parenthood said the Komen foundation had succumbed to political pressure from anti-abortion groups. It said such groups have repeatedly threatened Komen over its affiliation.
The decision set off an uproar among Komen supporters who also back Planned Parenthood, as evidenced by tens of thousands of comments on social media sites Facebook and Twitter.
"Susan Komen would not give in to bullies or fear. Too bad the foundation bearing her name did," writer Judy Blume, known for her books on girls growing up, said via Twitter.
Komen was Brinker's sister who died of breast cancer, inspiring the organization's creation.
Planned Parenthood, already barred from using federal funds to provide abortions, has seen the U.S. tax dollars it still receives for family aid to poor women come under intensifying Republican scrutiny in Congress.
The group has also come under attack from lawmakers in several states over the past year, including North Carolina, Indiana and Kansas, who have attempted to block state funding.
In Kansas some local prosecutors are pressing criminal charges against Planned Parenthood, alleging it failed to maintain paperwork related to the abortions it provided.
Money from Komen has helped thousands of women in rural and underserved communities get breast health education, screenings, and mammogram referrals, Planned Parenthood said in a statement.
The assistance translates into 170,000 of the 4 million clinical breast exams the group has performed over the past five years, and more than 6,400 of 70,000 mammogram referrals.
Planned Parenthood complained that Komen officials have not responded to requests to meet and talk about the decision to cut the funding.
(Editing by Michele Gershberg and Xavier Briand)