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    Abortion politics and breast cancer: Local Komen group will need heroic effort to recover

    By Susan Nielsen, The Oregonian The Oregonian- Sunday 2/5/12


    The local affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure may not recover from last week’s political firestorm over Planned Parenthood, not without months of crisis control and outreach.

    But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Sharon Hunt of McMinnville, Jennifer Williamson of Portland — and Jennifer’s mom, a retired oncology nurse from Beaverton who fervently opposes abortion yet supports Planned Parenthood for its commitment to women in need.

    “It’s very upsetting,” said Margaret Williamson, 65. “The early detection of cancer is so important. … This whole thing is totally unfair, especially to low-income women.”

    Last week, the nation’s leading breast-cancer charity said it decided to reject Planned Parenthood as a grant recipient for breast cancer screening. Komen pinned the change to a newly adopted board policy forbidding grants to organizations under investigation. Komen leaders insisted, unpersuasively, that this had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood’s role as an abortion provider or with the ongoing campaign by abortion opponents to starve the family-planning organization of public and private money.

    The backlash was immediate and stunning. By Friday, Komen was compelled to apologize and reverse course. Unfortunately, it’s hard to measure the extent of the reversal: Planned Parenthood is technically eligible for Komen grants again, but it may not win any.

    It’s also hard for breast-health advocates in Oregon to know how to respond. The local Komen affiliate serves Oregon and southwest Washington (and the local leaders opposed the move to defund Planned Parenthood), but the chapter does send a good portion of its locally raised money to national headquarters for research and advocacy.

    That doesn’t sit well with Hunt, 67.

    “I think (the national leaders) are so involved with continuing the institution of Komen,” Hunt said, “that they didn’t think about the woman who doesn’t have health insurance.”

    About five years ago, Hunt needed a mammogram but couldn’t afford one. She had recently lost her job as a receptionist and didn’t yet qualify for Medicare. She called the Komen foundation, the nearby Planned Parenthood clinic and another clinic. No one could help her. As she describes it, the two clinics were out of mammogram vouchers and the Komen folks said they hadn’t gotten their locally raised money back from headquarters yet.

    She finally got a mammogram once she qualified for Medicare. She’s fine, but she hates the scarcity of affordable cancer screening and she feels awful for the women whose early-stage cancers go undetected.

    “No one,” she said, “deserves to be snubbed.”

    I do think the local Komen chapter, which declined to comment Friday, can recover from this political crisis. However, it will take months of hard work to restore public confidence. If Komen can show exactly where the local donations go, and if it can be unusually specific about every Komen-supported breast-health service in every corner of Oregon, it may win back the local supporters who want to fight breast cancer without also fighting the culture wars.

    If the local chapter can’t rise to the occasion, another breast-cancer charity will grow to meet the demand.

    Until last week, Jennifer Williamson, 38, a Democratic state House candidate, served on local boards for both Planned Parenthood and the Komen charity. She resigned from the Komen board on Thursday, frustrated by the local affiliate’s initially timid response to the national move. She’s glad to see Komen backtrack, but she remains wary of the national agenda and reluctant to rejoin. She uses the word “trust” a lot.

    So does her mom, the former oncology nurse — a Catholic who calls herself “very anti-abortion.” The elder Williamson described Planned Parenthood as a first stop for lower-income women needing health care, and an ideal partner for Komen’s breast-health screening and mammogram referrals.

    She sees the politics as a terrible distraction.

    She has watched too many women die to feel otherwise.

    –Associate editor Susan Nielsen, The Oregonian

    Click here to view the article

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    Why I resigned from the Komen Board

    I’ve spent decades working for better health care for women in Oregon. Sometimes, that’s involved bringing diverse groups of people together to do the right thing. I was very proud of what we achieved to improve women’s health with the passage last year of the Low Income Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act to ensure all eligible women in our state have access to lifesaving screening and treatment.

    In my view, the access to quality healthcare for all women must come first–not narrow partisan agendas or religious crusades. Unfortunately, the national leadership of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation decided to ignore that principle in its recent decision to defund Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening program for low-income women. They injected politics, partisanship and divisiveness into basic health care services that save millions of lives.

    I simply can’t sit back quietly and let that happen.

    That’s why I resigned my position today from the Board of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Oregon & Southwest Washington.  As a proud supporter of Planned Parenthood and former chair of the board of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, I cannot in good conscience remain on the board of any organization that chooses to put politics ahead of preventive healthcare for low-income women.

    I had hoped our local Komen Chapter would loudly and strongly denounce this decision, work to overturn it immediately, or end affiliation with the national organization if the policy remains in place. I also believe the board should demand the dismissal of Karen Handel, Senior VP for Public Policy who drove this move by the national board. Because this has not happened, it is with deep sadness I am stepping down from the board of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Oregon and SW Washington until this policy is overturned and Karen Handel is no longer with the organization.

    Rest assured, I will continue to fight for better health care for women across Oregon and to ensure a women’s right to choose is never under threat in our state.

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    Now is the time for real sentencing reform

    By Jennifer Williamson of Portland, Oregon. Jennifer is an attorney and public safety reform leader running in the Democratic primary for HD 36 in West Portland. For more information, visit JenniferForOregon.com.

    Over the last several weeks, Governor Kitzhaber’s Commission on Public Safety has received a lot of attention over the release of its report calling for a hard look at Oregon’s public safety system. I, along with many others, am pleased this issue is receiving this long over-due attention. For the last 3 years, a group of non-profit organizations, unions, and concerned Legislators and citizens have worked together as part of the Oregon Coalition for Safety & Savings (OCSS) to formulate policy alternatives to our one-size-fits-all incarceration system and the enormous impact it has had on every other segment of our state’s budget.

    The OCSS is committed to supporting the most effective public safety policies so that our limited dollars are invested wisely. We are committed to keeping Oregonians safe and know that Oregon can do better when it comes to our spending on corrections.

    The membership of the OCSS includes a wide range of individuals and organizations who understand the need to decrease our spending on prisons and reinvest those savings into education, human services, community corrections, victim services, mental health, and addiction treatment. Members of the Oregon Coalition for Safety and Savings include:

    • Advocacy Coalition of Seniors and People with Disabilities
    • American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon
    • Association of Oregon Community Mental Health Programs
    • The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde
    • Human Services Coalition of Oregon
    • League of Women Voters of Oregon
    • National Association of Social Workers (Oregon Chapter)
    • Oregon Alliance of Children’s Programs
    • Oregon Business Association
    • Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence
    • Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
    • Oregon Education Association
    • Oregon Prevention Education & Recovery Association
    • Partnership for Safety and Justice
    • SEIU, Local 503
    • Self Enhancement, Inc.
    • Stand for Children
    • Urban League
    • Youth, Rights & Justice

    As one of the leaders of this powerful coalition, I have focused on sounding the alarm on the growing cost of corrections. I have worked with the group on drafting policy recommendations supported by evidence-based practices that will actually make Oregonians safer. OCSS is continually working to prevent so-called “solutions” that have proven ineffective and costly in other states. These failed approaches include balancing the budgets on the backs of Department of Corrections’ employees, allowing for dangerous overcrowding of facilities, and the privatization of correctional institutions.

    Studies show that investing our limited dollars in education, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, programs that stabilize families, and transition programs are better investments than continuing to over-incarcerate to the tune of $30,000 per inmate per year–almost as much as a year’s tuition at a private college.

    As the Legislature reconvenes in February and searches for additional savings in the budget, I hope that Legislators will continue to work with the OCSS to find sound policy solutions, and save money. If they don’t, Oregon will continue on an unsustainable path to spending an additional $600 million on corrections. This staggering figure includes building 2 new prisons over the next 10 years and comes at a time when our crime rate is at a 40-year low and the Legislature is making damaging cuts to education, health care, and other vital services.

    The agenda of the Oregon Coalition for Safety and Savings compliments the work that the Commission on Public Safety has been preparing for the 2013 legislative session. Between now and then, you’ll be hearing more from the Coalition and the Commission on what Oregon needs to do to make our public safety system even better. Oregon has a lot to be proud of when it comes to our public safety policies, but also a lot that needs to change. Max Williams, the recently retired director of Corrections knew it, and the Coalition and Commission do too.

    Now is the time to make the public safety changes Oregon needs and we have the right leadership and coalition to make it happen.


    1/24/2012- Blue Oregon