Karen Handel's most harrowing assignment came shortly after she started her job as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation's senior vice president for public policy. Asked to discontinue the breast cancer fighter's longstanding funding partnership with Planned Parenthood, Handel found herself squarely within the abortion provider's crosshairs. As a steadfast pro-lifer and a former deputy chief of staff to a pro-life Republican governor, she provided Planned Parenthood a convenient symbolic target. When her employer bowed before the onslaught and agreed to restore the funding, Handel resigned in protest.
In her new book, Planned Bullyhood (Howard Books), Handel recounts the events that precipitated her departure from the Komen foundation. CT editorial resident Melissa Steffan spoke with Handel about the reasoning behind Komen's breakup with Planned Parenthood, the urgency of reckoning with the abortion giant's full range of political activities, and the faith that empowered her to stand resolutely by her moral convictions.
When you arrived, Komen was being criticized by pro-life groups and voices on the Right for being pro-abortion and supporting Planned Parenthood. Do you think pro-life groups acted well in this controversy, before Komen changed its funding?
The Left is trying to make it out that the bullies against Komen are on the other side, but there's a major difference in tactics. Here's the difference that I see with the pro-life organizations and even the Catholic Church. They never made an orchestrated media campaign, an orchestrated effort to really destroy Komen. That's what Planned Parenthood was out to do. From the pro-life side, people were being informed about what Komen's branding model looked like and who they were giving money to, and then individuals were making their decisions. It wasn't an orchestrated effort to destroy the organization. Planned Parenthood and the Left really did just unleash an unprecedentedly vicious attack on Komen, all over $680,000 that is nothing in the grand scheme of Planned Parenthood's $1 billion budget.
What was the thinking behind the decision to pull what you call the "crappy grants" from Planned Parenthood?
The issue has been around at Komen for at least a decade. It would flare and die down, flare and die down. The decision ultimately had to do with Komen's granting strategy. Komen wanted to have the biggest impact for its donor dollars possible, and that meant restructuring how Komen was going to do education programs so that more funding would go toward what we consider national "best practices." Secondly, the foundation wanted to move away from the "pass-through" grant, because it made sense to go directly to a mammogram provider versus having a group like Planned Parenthood, which does not directly provide mammograms, get a cut of the funding. So for the $680,000, Komen's intent all along was to realign those dollars elsewhere in other programs, to be able to do more and serve more women.
Are there other mischaracterizations about Komen?
Another falsehood that Planned Parenthood and [its president] Cecile Richards promoted is the notion that we were "pulling the grant." That was not true. Komen was transitioning out of the grants and was already working with Planned Parenthood, working with Komen affiliates, to ensure there would be absolutely no gap in service. For Komen, the $680,000 represented less than one percent of Komen's total granting portfolio of more than $93 million a year. This really was an inconsequential amount of grant funding.