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Komen VP at center of Planned Parenthood debate quits

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 12:02


DALLAS — The dispute over who injected abortion politics into other women's health issues — the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation or the Planned Parenthood organization — showed no signs of abating Tuesday.

The day began with the resignation of Karen Handel, Komen's senior vice president for public policy and a prominent anti-abortion Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Georgia governor in 2010 and then took the post with Komen last April.

"I really felt I should step aside so they (Komen foundation) could focus on their mission," Handel said Tuesday during an interview on Fox News Channel. She praised Komen and its goal of eradicating breast cancer, adding, "The only group that has made this political is Planned Parenthood."

The resignation is the latest development in the furor that erupted last week when Komen acknowledged new grant-making policies that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, a nationwide provider of abortion services and other medical services for women.

Planned Parenthood has said the Komen grants totaled nearly $700,000 last year.

The resulting uproar caught Komen by surprise. Nancy Brinker, Komen's founder, announced an about-face on Friday and said her group will continue funding for Planned Parenthood.

The dispute centered around a new policy prohibiting Komen grants to any organization under investigation at federal, state or local levels. The policy seemed to single out Planned Parenthood, whose use of government funding is under investigation by a congressional subcommittee led by conservative Republicans.

Brinker denied that the decision was driven by politics or pressure from anti-abortion groups, and she has denied that Handel had a significant role in the policy change.

The Associated Press quoted an unidentified source inside the Komen organization as saying that the new policy was aimed directly at defunding Planned Parenthood and that Handel had been the driving force behind it since she arrived at Komen last April.

John Hammarley, a former spokesman for Komen, has also said the momentum to defund Planned Parenthood sped up when Handel came on board.

"All I know is internal debate and review of this issue ramped up significantly after she was hired," said Hammarley, who was laid off last summer. He described himself as a supporter of Komen's anti-cancer goals, not a disgruntled former employee.

Planned Parenthood officials declined to publicly comment on Handel's resignation.

Handel said in her resignation letter that Komen had been listening to the drumbeat against Planned Parenthood, driven by anti-abortion forces, long before she arrived at Komen. Board members had been thoroughly briefed on the new funding policy last November, she said.

"No objections were made to moving forward," her letter said.

Handel's resignation raised suspicions among anti-abortion advocates that Brinker and Komen had tossed her overboard to appease its critics.

"Karen Handel goes out with a tremendous amount of support from people of principle," said Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative advocacy group. Adams served as chairman of the Texas Republican Party in 2009-10. "The Komen foundation is no longer above the fray. They don't come down on the side of life."

Shortly after news of Handel's resignation became public, more than a dozen women delivered petitions with 832,000 online signatures to Komen's national headquarters in Farmers Branch, Texas, demanding that the charity continue funding breast health services for women.

Most of the women represented organizations MoveOn.org, CREDO Action and UltraViolet, but at least two showed up on their own for what they thought might be a bigger demonstration.

"I'm here for myself. I wanted to represent women — all women," said Kris Martin, a public relations and marketing professional.

Leaders of the groups met with two top executives for about a half-hour Tuesday.

"It was a very cordial meeting," said Athena S. Chavez, a regional organizer with MoveOn.org, a grassroots organization that is often vilified by conservative Republicans.

Chavez said she and the two Komen officials did not discuss Handel's resignation, but Chavez applauded the decision.

"We see it as a positive move on their part because she is somebody that we believe was a driving force behind the funding cuts," she said.

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