The breast cancer advocacy organization that used the Internet to mobilize fundraising walks nationwide backed off Friday from its decision to eliminate grants for Planned Parenthood after many of its supporters ignited an online firestorm of protest.
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation caved to the pressure. It announced that it would allow Planned Parenthood to continue applying for breast cancer screening grants.
The foundation gave the group $680,000 last year.
"We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives," a Komen statement said.
Many questioned that commitment four days ago when Komen said it would exclude Planned Parenthood from grants because the organization had come under a government investigation. It cited an inquiry by a Florida congressman urged on by anti-abortion groups.
"We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political," Komen said Friday.
All seven of California's Susan G. Komen affiliates opposed the group's initial decision. So did 26 U.S. senators and many newspapers.
The biggest influence may have been the deluge of criticism made through Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The progressive group MoveOn.org launched an online petition supporting the grants and said 60,000 people signed it within hours.
Some of the sharpest criticism came from participants in Komen's benefit walks.
"I feel Susan G. Komen acted foolishly and hastily, and maybe they didn't realize the power of the Internet," said Teresa Tirado, of Castro Valley, whose eldest daughter has raised funds for the organization in its Walk for the Cure.
"It's almost like Occupy Susan G. Komen," she said.
Tirado, who noted that she has donated a large amount of money to Komen, learned of its decision through Facebook. She posted comments on her Facebook page.
"I was really upset, along with many, many other people -- both male and female," she said.
She was pleased with Friday's about-face, but said it's not easy "to forgive and forget."
"It doesn't make me feel that all of a sudden Susan G. Komen has this huge heart," she said. "No. It makes me realize it's affecting their pocketbook, and that's why the decision was made."
Conservatives and anti-abortion groups had supported the original decision and were unhappy about Friday's development.
A U.S. senator said he was extremely disappointed.
"Unfortunately, it seems that Komen caved to political pressure from the pro-abortion movement and enforcers in the media," Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wrote in a statement to The Washington Post.
The depth of the national outpouring is not surprising in light of the many people touched by breast cancer, said Joanne Bamberger, the Washington, D.C.-based author of "Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America."
"This is so personal to so many people, and using the tools of social media is so easy," she said. "That really just lit the fire underneath it.
"How many people do you know or I know who have done the Walk for the Cure because they have a mother or sister who had the disease?" she said.
The network of supporters Komen organized became an accountability tool, noted Jamia Wilson, a vice president of programs for the Women's Media Center in New York and a former Planned Parenthood staff member.
"Because the tools are so interactive -- constantly being a part of the conversation -- it makes it so people have a much easier and quicker opportunity to frame an opinion," Wilson said.
With so many people supplying information through social media, however, it increased the possibility of inaccuracies and misunderstandings, said Maria Sousa, executive director of Komen's Bay Area affiliate.
She worried that the controversy could affect the Walk for the Cure in September. She said that she hopes people realize the organization will still support services for low-income women.
The controversy unleashed a flood of financial donations, leaders on both sides reported.
Planned Parenthood said it raised $650,000 in the 24 hours after the news broke. Komen leaders said its donations were up "100 percent," but declined to give specifics.
At centers in the Shasta Pacific chapter of Planned Parenthood, which covers 17 counties including Contra Costa and Solano, people walked in this week and delivered checks for several hundred dollars each, said president and CEO Heather Estes. She would not estimate the total raised.
Estes noted that one in five women nationwide have used Planned Parenthood services in their lives.
"Women health care advocates, particularly breast cancer survivors, have learned that they need to speak up for what's important," she said.
On Friday, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Reps. Jackie Speier and Mike Honda, among others, praised Komen's reversal.
"The divisiveness caused by the original Komen decision did not reflect well on the foundation's positive work," Feinstein said in a statement.
"This is a victory for women's health and a huge win for all the men and women who made their voices heard this week."
The Associated Press and staff writers Bruce Newman, Angela Woodall and Josh Richman contributed to this report. Sandy Kleffman covers health. Contact her at 925-943-8249. Follow her at Twitter.com/skleffman.