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The Power of Public Outcry

posted: 2.10.12 by Donna Winchell

How could anyone disapprove of Susan G. Komen for the Cure? What more noble cause than an attempt to “save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures” for breast cancer, to borrow language from the organization’s Web site? Behind the pink visors, t-shirts, and headscarves is the moving story of how Nancy Brinker made a promise to her dying sister to do everything in her power to end breast cancer, and since 1982 the nonprofit Komen Foundation has invested more than $1.9 billion in the cause.

What’s not to like?

In January, a lot of people found something very specific to dislike when the Komen Foundation withdrew funding for mammograms from Planned Parenthood. There was an outcry in the news media and the social media as people threatened to—and did—withdraw their support from Komen. The outspoken critics were heard, and early this month the Komen Foundation reversed it decision, and founder and CEO Brinker issued a statement apologizing to the American public “for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.” She explained that the funds were withdrawn not for political reasons—i.e., because Planned Parenthood provides abortions—but because the organization is under investigation by a Republican congressman to see if tax money is used to fund the abortions. Komen’s new policy is to withhold grant money only if an organization’s investigation is “criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.”

What is the logic behind all of this? How would you explain the controversy using the language of formal argument? The shift in the Komen Foundation’s policy is reflected in the difference between these two syllogisms:

Major premise: Susan G. Komen for the Cure will not provide financial support to any

organization under investigation.

Minor premise: Planned Parenthood is under investigation.

Conclusion: Susan G. Komen for the Cure will not provide financial support to Planned

Parenthood.

Major premise: An organization is eligible for Susan G. Komen funding if it is not under

criminal investigation.

Minor premise: Planned Parenthood is not under criminal investigation.

Conclusion: Planned Parenthood is eligible for Komen funding.

How do Toulmin’s terms claim, support, and warrant apply? Those who withdrew their support of the Komen Foundation did so because they saw hypocrisy in an organization denying mammograms to poor women while professing to want to save women’s lives. The structure of a Toulmin argument might look like this:

Claim: Planned Parenthood should remain eligible for financial support from the Susan G.

Komen Race for the Cure.

Support: Regular mammograms can save lives through early detection of breast cancer.

Warrant: A program that can save women’s lives should be eligible for financial support

from the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

The Komen Foundation and its critics were able to come together so quickly on this issue because they share the common ground of wanting to save women’s lives. The funding will be restored. Now the foundation must work to restore some of the faith in it that has been lost.


Categories: Argument
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