Komen’s Karen Handel Resigns After Planned Parenthood Dispute

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 7, 2012   |   11:50AM   |   Washington, DC

Karen Handel, a top Komen official who was said to be instrumental in putting in place the changes in Komen policy that essentially resulted in cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, has resigned her position.

As LifeNews reported last week, Komen initially decided in December to revise its grant-making process to funds grants to agencies that provide direct health services for women — which would eliminate Planned Parenthood since it does not do mammograms. After Planned Parenthood, Democratic members of Congress and the media pounced on Komen for its decision, Komen clarified that Planned Parenthood would still be allowed to submit grant requests but they may or may not be funded.

Handel’s former spokesman Dan McLagan told media outlets today that she has called an afternoon press conference to announce her decision.

According to AP, Handel released a letter (full text below) in advance of the press conference giving more insight into her decision.

“I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it,” Handel said in her letter. “I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen’s future and the women we serve.”

Handel had not spoken out public since the Komen decision became public last week.

Komen released a statement from founder Susan Brinker accepting Handel’s resignation, saying, “Today I accepted the resignation of Karen Handel, who has served as Senior Vice President for Policy since April 2011. I have known Karen for many years, and we both share a common commitment to our organization’s lifelong mission, which must always remain our sole focus. I wish her the best in future endeavors.”

“Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s mission is the same today as it was the day of its founding: to find a cure and eradicate breast cancer,” Brinker added. “We owe no less to our partners, supporters and, above all, the millions of people who have been and continue to be impacted by this life-threatening disease. We have made mistakes in how we have handled recent decisions and take full accountability for what has resulted, but we cannot take our eye off the ball when it comes to our mission. To do this effectively, we must learn from what we’ve done right, what we’ve done wrong and achieve our goal for the millions of women who rely on us. The stakes are simply too high and providing hope for a cure must drive our efforts.”

Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life expressed the sentiment of many pro-life advocates responding to the decision, by saying Handel resigned because of Planned Parenthood’s aggressive attacks on Komen after its initial decision.

“Karen Handel was sick and tired of being held hostage by the largest pro-abortion lobby in the country when she and the Komen Foundation were supposed to be focused on saving women’s lives, not endangering them,” she told LifeNews. “They held the Komen Foundation, and the millions of women they serve, hostage until they got their way, pocketing merely a drop in the bucket when it comes to their extensive funding.”

“Handel’s resignation only furthers Planned Parenthood’s status as a bully who shakes down whomever they need to in order that to get their way. Planned Parenthood flexed their muscle using mafia-style tactics, vowing to bury a charity dedicated to saving women’s lives while remaining under investigation at both the federal and state levels for endangering the lives of women. From Medicaid fraud, overbilling, failing to follow mandatory reporting laws and the aiding and abetting of sex trafficking of minors, Komen had good reason to defund Planned Parenthood and is now paying the price for doing business with thugs,” Hawkins continued. [related]

Some observers say the December Komen decision came about in part because Komen hired pro-life former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel as its new Vice-President for Policy. While media reports have differed about the level of influence she had on the Komen decision to change its grant policies, the liberal Huffington Post allegesin a weekend story that that was the case:

But a Komen insider told HuffPost on Sunday that Karen Handel, Komen’s staunchly anti-abortion vice president for public policy, was the main force behind the decision to defund Planned Parenthood and the attempt to make that decision look nonpolitical.

“Karen Handel was the prime instigator of this effort, and she herself personally came up with investigation criteria,” the source, who requested anonymity for professional reasons, told HuffPost. “She said, ‘If we just say it’s about investigations, we can defund Planned Parenthood and no one can blame us for being political.’”

Emails between Komen leadership on the day the Planned Parenthood decision was announced, which were reviewed by HuffPost under the condition they not be published, confirm the source’s description of Handel’s sole “authority” in crafting and implementing the Planned Parenthood policy.

Handel’s strategy to cut off Planned Parenthood involved drafting new guidelines that would prevent Komen from funding any organization that was under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. Since Planned Parenthood is currently the target of a congressional inquiry prompted by House Republicans into the way it uses government funds, the family planning provider would have been immediately disqualified from receiving new Komen grants.

According to HuffPo, Handel’s strategy was to bring to Komen leaders’ attention any public criticism of Komen from pro-life advocates because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Planned Parenthood.

“Komen’s been dealing with the Planned Parenthood issue for years, and you know, some right-wing groups would organize a protest or send out a mailing every now and then, but it was on a low simmer,” the source said. “What Karen’s been doing for the past six months is ratcheting up the issue with leadership. Every time someone would even mention a protest, she would magnify it, pump it up, exaggerate it. She’s the one that kept driving this issue.”

The source said Handel submitted a final version of the new grant criteria to Komen leadership in November, and the board approved it in December, at which point Komen’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned “on the spot.”

The pro-abortion side is upset with Handel — to the point that it has sponsored a petition asking Komen officials to axe her from her position.

In 2010, Handel decided to run for governor to replace outgoing pro-life Governor Sonny Perdue, who was term limited, on a platform of defunding Planned Parenthood.

“I am staunchly and unequivocally pro-life. I believe in the sanctity and inherent dignity of human life, and I will be a pro-life governor who will work tirelessly to promote a culture of life in Georgia,” Handel said. “I believe that each and every unborn child has inherent dignity, that every abortion is a tragedy, and that government has a role, along with the faith community, in encouraging women to choose life in even the most difficult of circumstances…. since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.”

Pressing for Planned Parenthood de-funding, Handel said, “During my time as Chairman of Fulton County, there were federal and state pass-through grants that were awarded to Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screening, as well as a ‘Healthy Babies Initiative’…Since grants like these are from the state I’ll eliminate them as your next Governor.”

Ironically, Georgia Right to Life refused to extend to Handel its endorsement — instead going with five of the other candidates seeking the nomination against her. Dan Becker, the Georgia Right to Life president who is a key leader in the personhood movement, told LifeNews at the time that “Handel proclaims herself pro-life; however, she does not meet the 21st century demands of being pro-life.”

Despite that, Handel received the endorsement of pro-life former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and some pro-life advocates criticized GRTL for its decision.

After her loss in the 2010 GOP primary, Handel moved on to other things and, eventually, in April 2011, was named Senior VP for Komen.

“In her role at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Handel will be responsible for leading the organization’s federal and state advocacy efforts, including management of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Advocacy Alliance. Handel has been working with Komen as a consultant for advocacy since January,” Komen said at the time.

Full text of letter from Karen Handel about her resignation (via the Atlanta Journal Constitution):

February 7, 2012

The Honorable Nancy Brinker

CEO, Susan G. Komen for the Cure VIA EMAIL

5005 LBJ Freeway, Suite 250

Dallas, Texas 75244

Dear Ambassador Brinker:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has been the recognized leader for more 30 years in the fight against breast cancer here in the US – and increasingly around the world.

As you know, I have always kept Komen’s mission and the women we serve as my highest priority – as they have been for the entire organization, the Komen Affiliates, our many supporters and donors, and the entire community of breast cancer survivors. I have carried out my responsibilities faithfully and in line with the Board’s objectives and the direction provided by you and Liz.

We can all agree that this is a challenging and deeply unsettling situation for all involved in the fight against breast cancer. However, Komen’s decision to change its granting strategy and exit the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood and its grants was fully vetted by every appropriate level within the organization. At the November Board meeting, the Board received a detailed review of the new model and related criteria. As you will recall, the Board specifically discussed various issues, including the need to protect our mission by ensuring we were not distracted or negatively affected by any other organization’s real or perceived challenges. No objections were made to moving forward.

I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it. I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen’s future and the women we serve. However, the decision to update our granting model was made before I joined Komen, and the controversy related to Planned Parenthood has long been a concern to the organization. Neither the decision nor the changes themselves were based on anyone’s political beliefs or ideology. Rather, both were based on Komen’s mission and how to better serve women, as well as a realization of the need to distance Komen from controversy. I believe that Komen, like any other nonprofit organization, has the right and the responsibility to set criteria and highest standards for how and to whom it grants.

What was a thoughtful and thoroughly reviewed decision – one that would have indeed enabled Komen to deliver even greater community impact – has unfortunately been turned into something about politics. This is entirely untrue. This development should sadden us all greatly.

Just as Komen’s best interests and the fight against breast cancer have always been foremost in every aspect of my work, so too are these my priorities in coming to the decision to resign effective immediately. While I appreciate your raising a possible severance package, I respectfully decline. It is my most sincere hope that Komen is allowed to now refocus its attention and energies on its mission.

Karen Handel