Karen Handel steps down as Komen VP after Planned Parenthood controversy

5:07 PM, Feb 7, 2012   |    comments
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(Courtesy of KarenHandel.com)

ATLANTA -- An executive with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast-cancer charity has resigned after a dispute over funding for Planned Parenthood. The resignation came in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel announced her resignation as vice president for public policy in a letter to Komen officials Tuesday.

Handel said in her letter that she had supported cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood.

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Handel, a former Republican candidate for governor in Georgia, emphasized her opposition to abortion during her 2010 campaign.

Komen announced last week that it had adopted criteria excluding Planned Parenthood from future grants for breast-cancer screenings because it was under government investigation. It cited a probe launched by a congressman at the urging of anti-abortion groups.

The charity reversed that decision days later.

Handel's resignation letter was released online Tuesday morning:

"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."

Susan G. Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker released a statement Tuesday morning after Handel's resignation:

"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.

"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.

"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."

The local Atlanta branch of Susan G. Komen for the Cure released a separate statement late Tuesday morning, pointing out that their funding decisions are separeate from the national body. They went on to reiterate that Komen Atlants has not received a request for funding from the local Planned Parenthood organization, and that they have never provided funding to them.

The statement went on to say in part:

The Board of Directors of Komen Atlanta understands and supports the need to have strict policies pertaining to the grant of Komen funds, but sometimes policies have unintended consequences. We called on the national organization to revise the new guideline providing that an applicant, or its affiliates, that is under a formal investigation for financial or administrative improprieties by local, state or federal authorities would be ineligible to receive a Komen grant. We disagreed with the premise that an organization cannot apply for funding while under investigation. We believed this to be a nebulous and open-ended criteria for funding that would require Komen to make judgment calls about organizations before any finding of wrongdoing. This type of prejudgment would have made the Komen organization vulnerable to criticism that it was making funding decisions based on political factors, which simply cannot be allowed.

Komen National has agreed to amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair. With this
modification, Komen affiliates will maintain the ability to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities. This will also allow all organizations, including Planned Parenthood, to apply for grant funding if they so chose.

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