Fewer people are participating in Spokane’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure this year after the breast-cancer charity’s national office let abortion politics influence its funding policies.
Race registrations will be off by perhaps 1,000 – or about 12 percent from last year under best case scenarios, said Lisa Fairbanks-Rossi, the public relations chairwoman for local race committee.
The effect hasn’t necessarily translated to a drop in dollars, she said.
“Our fundraising has actually gone quite well,” she said, “but sadly we don’t have as many people registered.”
The race is 9 a.m. Sunday and so far there are 6,283 racers registered. Race organizers anticipate up to 1,200 late registrations, pushing the final number to around 7,500.
Last year the race drew about 8,500 participants, she said.
Many people who aren’t participating in the race are signaling their protest of the flap Komen’s national board created earlier this year when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood’s cancer-screening services.
Komen quickly reversed that decision following three days of uproar. But the damage had already been done.
Race participation is down across the nation, according to national reports, and people on all sides of the abortion debate are upset.
“The whole episode has just been heartbreaking,” said Fairbanks-Rossi. “Planned Parenthood has provided critical cancer screening for poor and underserved women everywhere, including Eastern Washington.” She noted that the local Komen board was shocked by the decision made at the national level, especially since many had received health care services at Planned Parenthood and one board member recently had a family member who had a cancer detected early by a successful screening at the clinic.
Sue LaRue, a cancer survivor and Komen supporter, also believes that lingering economic problems are driving down participation, not just the flip-flop on Planned Parenthood funding.
“People are just cutting back everywhere,” LaRue said.
Both women hope that late registrations will boost the numbers.
They noted that 75 percent of all donations are kept local. The rest is sent to national headquarters where much of it funds cancer-fighting research.
Fairbanks-Rossi said the controversy erupted at a time when participants and fundraisers were normally gathering support for the race. This year the controversy deflated much of the enthusiasm and changed the talking points from fighting cancer and helping women to delicate talks about funding Planned Parenthood, which has for years been the target of people who protest against its abortion services.
“It may take some time for this to pass,” Fairbanks-Rossi said.