The Washington Post

Abortion in the news: Are the decisions by Komen and VA senate ethical?

Feb 02, 2012

The Susan G. Komen Foundation announced Tuesday that they had decided to stop funding Planned Parenthood, saying a new national policy barred support for organizations under government investigation. But some think the decision was more about politics than ethics.

And on Wednesday, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, the first of several legislative measures this year that are expected to dramatically alter abortion law in the state.

But if the state requires a sonogram, then should the state be required to pay for it?

Chat with Brad Hirshfield as he discusses the ethical and moral implications of these two news stories. Submit your questions and opinions now.

Get ready, because today's topic always seems to bring out the crazy in people.  Abortion is in the news again, with the Komen foundation deciding to de-fund it's initiatives through Planned Parenthood, and the State of Virginia deciding to compel women who want an abortion to first have an ultra sound AND the "opportunity" to see the images before making their final decision.


My take?  The first decision is a mole hill being made into a mountain by hysterical abortion rights folks,  while the second issue is a mountainous attack upon women who seek abortions. 


What do you think?  What's REALLY at stake here?  Join the conversation now!

Aren't they just playing politics? It certainly sounds like more than just a matter of funding. And while disappointing, Komen can fund who they want, but it's women around the country who suffer. Their reasons sound highly suspect, and the question is, who will now provide the healthcare?

BOTH SIDES are playing politics here, though perhaps not as many people think.


That people are attacking Komen is presposterous, and largely due to the anger that Nancy Brinker, who created the foundation in memory of her sister, and many people in the foundation's leadership, happen to be more connected to the Republican party.  I think that many Liberals can not stand that politically conservative people have lead the way on significant areas of women's health initiatives -- it doesn't fit with the stereotypes to which they want to cling. 


So, in this case, is is activists on the left who are playing politics with an entriely reasonable decision by the Komen Foundation.  In fact, all the money they took away has already been replaced, and they will spend their dollars elsewhere.  At the end of the day, that means their decision actually created more financing for vitally important women's health work being done both by them and by Planned Parenthood.


As to Virginia, Republican politicans there should be ashamed of themselves.  They can take whatever position they want on abortion, but using guilt and manipulation, is scandalous.  How they can say with a straight face, as many have, that complelling women to have sonograms is a health issue, simply boggles the mind!

I can't help thinking that a lot of these measures (requiring an ultrasound, defunding PP) are a way of sneaking around the fact that right now, abortion is legal. So while challenges to Roe Vs Wade wind their way through courts, opponents are instead making abortions just harder and harder to get, hedging that abortion will not be made illegal. So, ultimately, it doesn't matter if abortion is legal if no one will provide one. What is your take on this, and is it ethical to work around a decision that you disagree with in this manner?

The "work around" approach you mention -- and the one being employed in Virginia but NOT by Komen, in my opinion -- would be ethical IF those doing it came clean about what they were doing. 


This is, whether we like it or not a legal/political issue and because of that, will be "worked".  But pretending that one is not doing so, when they clearly are, is NOT ethical.

Am I the only one that sees the irony in the Commonwealth of Virginia objecting to Healthcare Reform (perhaps to the Supreme Court level) and mandating that people have health insurance AND then mandating a medical procedure?

Nobody will ever accuse highly ideological politicians, on either the left of the right, of being overly consistant!  That said, there is a logic to this.


The objection to forcing people to buy coverage which they may not want, is a real and legitimate legal issue.  At the same time, government can compel people to have specific medical procedures, and even to pay for them, when it's in the public interest e.g. vaccinations against communicable diseases or eye exams and corrective lenses for some drivers.  The issue in VA is that this is NOT a public health or saftey issue.


I want to be clear, I believe that abortion is far to common and far to easily resorted to in this country, but that is not an excuse for playing fast and loose with the lives of those seeking them.

I really wish the Virginia legislature was putting all this time and energy towards improving sex ed and the availability of birth control, and funding government programs to help poor women provide care for their children. I am sure that would reduce the number of abortions in the state more effectively than requiring a waiting period and a sonogram.

You are so right!  Every study indicates that if we really wanted to reduce the number of abortions in a serious way, we would do all the things you suggest. 


I appreciate the urgency and reactivity of those who genuinely believe that abortion is murder, even though I so don't share their opinion, but actions like the one being taken in VA, actually work against their stated desire to reduce abortions.  They need to address that the short-term victory that this represents, may actually contribute to more abortions being performed over the long term.

My favorite bumper sticker from the 1970's is,"If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." I still have one on my car. While I'm unhappy w/the VA legislature -- that's why I live in MD -- I was stunned by the Komen Foundation action. They'll never get another penny from me, and I have been a generous supporter in the past.

Forgive me for being blunt -- but you are being foolish, and dangerously self-indugent.  Your obvious cyncisim and anger (think your bumper sticker) are getting in the way of supporting Komen's 93 million dollar investment in public health ventures for women.  Is that REALLY what you want to do?


I am sorry for being so tough, but as a "generous supporter" of an important project, you must be a very special person, and it would be a shame to undermine that.


The foundation's 700 thousand dollar committment to PP is barely an accounting error, given the scale of their work -- not to mention that the dollars have already been repleaced.  If you want to play politics with women's health, go ahead, but it's nothing to be proud of.


If you really want to spend your outrage wisely, go after those in the US Congress who placed PP under federal investigation.  They are the ones who made it impossible for Komen to keep funding PP.

Many years ago, I worked for a moderate Republican Senator (obviously). His form letter to abortion opponents read in part, it is wrong for the government to force an unwilling mother to bear an unwanted child. Now that's a ethical position. Too bad he is no longer with us.

it's an artful response, but not helpful for those who genuinely believe that abortion is murder.  so to the extent that is sounds good and made him feel good about his position, but failed to address the felt need of his constituents, it was not so wise, and maybe not even ethical.


if one truly believes that the fetus is a full human being, than forcing the mother to have the baby IS  appropriate.  The point is though, that most Americans don;t feel that way, so the real issue is what those people who want her to do so are willing to do for her to make it more likely that she will.  I think he should have written back with a list of suggestions that made those who oppose abortion rights responsible for all those women who want to have an abortion.

So is the Komen organization decision to not send grant dollars to Planned Parenthood "ethical", or is it politically motivated? Does Komen have ties to the republican cabal, now that they've hired a former pol with ties to anti-choice groups? Does Komen get any public dollars?

There really is zero evidence that the decision by Komen was politcal.  Their founder has been connected to Republican causes for years, as has much of their ledership, and their funding to Planned Parenthood has been increasing over the past years!


Komen finds itself in a difficult position because they want to assure that they are above any politcal fray.  By not funding groups under invesitgation, they will probaly cut funding to some worthy recipients, but in a venture as large as theirs, they must protect against the possibility of funding groups that are truly problematic.


The way to address this is by pressuring those in congress who put PP under investigation.

You seem to indicate in your first answer that you don't think Komen is playing politics. Is that the case? The way I read it is they are defunding a group that provides a critical service that falls in line with their stated goal because that group provides another service that makes them a target for negative attention, in this case, a trumped up investigation, which is the loose basis SGK is using to defund them (and only PP). What changed between last year and this year to make SGK change their attitude toward PP if they're not caving to political pressure (which is how I read it--I don't necessarily think of SGK as an anti-choice group, regardless of the political leanings of its leadership)

the answer is in your question.  SGK has funded PP, even increasing their funding over the past years -- years during which plenty of people were hammering PP.  What changed was simply the decison that as SGK grew, it needed to make tough decisions about groups under federal investigation.  it seems to me, in this case at least, that BOTH SGK AND PP are victims of political games being played in congress.

The poster is very reasonable, but the problem with his/her proposal about reducing abortions (more sex ed, more birth control access) is that many people who are morally opposed to abortion are also opposed to those things. They are committed to that ideological purity and truly believe people should come to see things their way- that they put their mortal soul in danger when they do these things. Making practical arguments like the poster's does not appeal. (I am basing this on my experience as a Catholic and what I have heard from the pulpit from official pronouncement, etc.)

Yours is a perfect summary of a tragic situation.  it IS about ideological purity, and the real tragedy here is that because of it, more abortions are perfomed than otherwise would be.  That actually hurts my heart.


I don't think that abortion is murder, and I do think that we perfom far to many in this country -- a position which makes me like most Americans.  Until we take back this issue from the extemists -- the ideological purists -- on both sides, we will never have coherent and humane abortion policy in this country.

So does that mean the woman is required to look at the somogram or just that a doctor or technician has to take one. I realize this is hair splitting, but since no politician can force a woman to look at a screen & see something if they don't want to, my point is that this is just a political stunt that simply costs the state a bunch of money (people with money will just drive to DC or MD; only people with VA State Medicaid will be affected.) This type of hoop jumping should have no place in women's health care.

They actually will give the women two choices, and they MUST opt for one of them.  Either that must look at the pictures, or they must sign a document which says that they refused to do so.  So, at a particulalry critical moment in  woman's life, the Virginia law hopes to let her choose between what they clearly hope will be guilt or shame. 


Unless one's oposition to abortion is so total that it precludes any committment to the mom's dignity, they should oppose this law. 

In my view, as someone who has had breast cancer, the outrage Komen's decision has caused is fully justifiable. Komen is a big business, part of the cancer-scare machine. The ethics of their decision are clear: NOT. I think a full investigation of Komen is in order.

Just to be clear, what you are calling for is exactly what created the whole problem -- outraged people calling for investigations of organizations simply because they disagree with some of what they do.  I would not, nor should anybody, question the authenticity of your outrage, especially as a breat cancer survivor, but as a matter of public policy, you are wrong.


All sides needs to turn down the outrage and do as much as they can, for as many as they can, working within the parameters of that which they believe.  Any other response simply says that it is more important to us that we convince other to share our views, or worse, impose our views on them, instead of assuring that people are served and that illness is fought.

Obviously, this is a complex topic about which people are passionate.  I hope that today's conversation helps us to pursue those passions, whatever they are, with more light and less heat.


As always, your comments and questions were great, and I look forward to hearing from you next week.  Until them, you can find me on Facebook or follow me on twitter.


Until next week,



In This Chat
Bradley Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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