NEW YORK (AP) - The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates - creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women.
The change will mean a cutoff of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, mainly for breast exams.
Planned Parenthood says the move results from Komen bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Komen says the key reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress - a probe launched by a conservative Republican who was urged to act by anti-abortion groups.
The rupture, which has not been publicly announced as it unfolded, is wrenching for some of those who've learned about it and admire both organizations.
"We're kind of reeling," said Patrick Hurd, who is CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia - recipient of a 2010 grant from Komen - and whose wife, Betsi, is a veteran of several Komen fundraising races and is currently battling breast cancer.
"It sounds almost trite, going through this with Betsi, but cancer doesn't care if you're pro-choice, anti-choice, progressive, conservative," Hurd said. "Victims of cancer could care less about people's politics."
Planned Parenthood said the Komen grants totaled roughly $680,000 last year and $580,000 the year before, going to at least 19 of its affiliates for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health services.
Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity's newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. According to Komen, this applies to Planned Parenthood because it's the focus of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., seeking to determine whether public money was improperly spent on abortions.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has depicted Stearns' probe as politically motivated and said she was dismayed it had contributed to Komen's decision to halt the grants to PPFA affiliates.
"It's hard to understand how an organization with whom we share a mission of saving women's lives could have bowed to this kind of bullying," Richards told the Associated Press. "It's really hurtful."
Reaction to the news was swift and passionate. On Twitter, it was one of the most discussed topics Tuesday evening, with some tweets praising Komen's decision and others angrily vowing never to give to it again.
Two Democrats in Congress - Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Michael Honda of California - issued statements denouncing Komen's action.
Anti-abortion groups, in contrast, welcomed the news. The Alliance Defense Fund praised Komen "for seeing the contradiction between its lifesaving work and its relationship with an abortionist that has ended millions of lives."
A statement issued Tuesday evening by Komen made no reference to the vehement reactions, instead citing its new grant-making criteria and pledging to ensure there were no gaps in service to women.
"While it is regrettable when changes in priorities and policies affect any of our grantees, such as a long-standing partner like Planned Parenthood, we must continue to evolve to best meet the needs of the women we serve and most fully advance our mission," the statement said.
Komen, founded in 1982, has invested more than $1.9 billion since then in breast-cancer research, health services and advocacy. Its Race for the Cure fundraising events have become a global phenomenon.