Karen Handel, a senior vice president of public policy for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, resigned after the breast-cancer group decided to overturn a decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Handel, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in Georgia in 2010, today criticized Planned Parenthood for its “guerilla tactics,” saying “for an outside organization to come in like they did and conduct this shakedown is outrageous.”
The Komen organization’s decision to end about $680,000 in grants drew thousands of online protests and complaints and helped Planned Parenthood raise $3 million in reaction. Komen on Feb. 3 said it had changed its policies in a way that would allow New York-based Planned Parenthood to apply for grants.
Handel said at a news conference today that while she doesn’t think Komen should fund Planned Parenthood, she left her personal feelings at the door when she took the job. Handel declined a severance package.
“Today I accepted the resignation of Karen Handel,” said Komen Chief Executive Officer Nancy Brinker in an e-mailed statement. “I have known Karen for many years, and we both share a common commitment to our organization’s lifelong mission.”
Planned Parenthood earlier had said Komen was pressured to end the grants by anti-abortion forces. Today, Handel said that Planned Parenthood “unleashed a premeditated and vicious attack on not only Komen but Ambassador Brinker.”
Brinker, who is also a founder of Komen, served as ambassador to Hungary from 2001 to 2003 under George W. Bush’s administration, according to the embassy’s website.
Komen had said it ended the grants because Planned Parenthood was under investigation by Representative Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, into whether Planned Parenthood is illegally using government money for abortions.
Komen had originally said it changed its criteria to deny money to any organization under federal, state, or local investigation. The criteria were later amended to make it clear that the investigations must be criminal and conclusive.
Handel wrote in a blog during her 2010 gubernatorial race for the Republican nomination that she would eliminate any state grants for organizations that supply abortions such as Planned Parenthood which, she wrote, “I do not support.”
The posting was in response to a campaign attack targeting a 2005 vote approving a grant for Planned Parenthood during the time she served as a country commissioner. She defended that vote in the blog, writing that it merely confirmed pass-through funding of state and federal dollars for breast and cervical cancer screening.
The debate over abortion percolates in American politics, and has figured in the 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination for president as candidates such as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum have pledged to stop abortions in almost all cases.
MoveOn.org, a political supporter of President Barack Obama that had called on Komen to reverse its decision, said Handel’s resignation is “welcome news to hundreds of thousands of MoveOn members,” said Elena Perez, the campaign director for the organization, in an e-mailed statement.
Credo, a mobile phone company and Planned Parenthood’s biggest corporate sponsor, called Handel’s actions “damaging” and characterized her resignation as “a victory for women’s health” in an e-mailed statement.
“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,” said Kristian Hawkins, the executive director of Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion advocacy group, in an e-mailed statement.