Susan G. Komen foundation controversy continues

Just days after controversy erupted over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s funding of Planned Parenthood, a top official resigned from the breast cancer charity. Sarah Kliff and N.C. Aizenman report:

Karen Handel, vice president for public policy, acknowledged that she had supported Komen’s decision to pull funding for Planned Parenthood in a resignation letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal Constitution. However, she said the decision-making process began before she joined the organization last year, and the policy change was thoroughly vetted at every level within the organization and unanimously agreed to by the board at a November meeting.

“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,” Handel wrote to Komen’s CEO and founder Nancy Brinker.

In an interview, Handel acknowledged she played a role in Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood, but also pushed back against allegations that she was the sole actor in the decision.

“I clearly acknowledge [my role] in the process, but to suggest I had sole authority is just absurd,” Handel told Fox News Tuesday afternoon. “The policy was vetted at all appropriate levels.”

Handel reiterated that Komen had stopped funding Planned Parenthood because of new grantmaking policies, further explaining that “controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood” also played a role.

In her letter, Handel also said she was “deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterization” of her involvement. The policy change, which would have barred grants to organizations under government investigation, was reversed last week. Planned Parenthood is the subject of a probe launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R - Fla.) into whether it has used federal funds to pay for abortions.

The Komen uproar has created a window for other breast cancer charities to lure donors. Sarah Kliff reports:

As a prominent breast cancer researcher and activist, Susan Love is no stranger to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Love runs a breast cancer research foundation that bears her name, and she organized theArmy of Women, more than 360,000 women to whom breast cancer researchers can blast out requests for subjects. But the Komen Foundation is so entrenched in the world of breast cancer fundraising, Love says, that she often finds a “G” inadvertently inserted as her middle initial. “It’s unfortunate that we’re both named Susan,” she told me in an interview yesterday. “But I can’t change my name.”

But here’s what Susan Love can do: use last week’s Komen controversy to lure donors to her own group, potentially lessening the group’s behemoth status in the breast cancer charity and research world.

“There certainly are a lot of people who are saying, ‘I’ll never give to Komen again,’ ” says Love. “We want them to realize there are alternatives. They don’t have to switch fields, because there are other people who are working very hard on these issues and who could benefit even more from their donations.”

Komen, founded in 1982, has long dominated the breast cancer charity landscape. Komen had $357 million in revenue last year and is the world’s largest cancer charity. But with a strong backlash last week to the group’s decision (since reversed) to defund Planned Parenthood, Love sees a perfect opportunity to make a pitch to donors looking to defect.

To that end, Love’s Army of Women network got an e-mail blast last Thursday, urging those who want to continue supporting breast cancer research to “redirect” funds to her group.

“Let’s redirect all the money that will be spent on investigating Planned Parenthood into funding studies looking to find the cause and prevent the disease once and for all,” the e-mail says. “Let’s redirect our anger to making mammograms unnecessary because we know how to prevent the disease.”

Love says that her supporters’ reaction to that e-mail has been mixed. She doesn’t yet have data on how the e-mail, or the Komen decision, has impacted her own group’s fundraising. “We had a majority who thought it was great, and agreed with us,” she says. “We had some people who were antiabortion and were mad about it.”

Rachel Weiner reports that the controversy could be a sign that culture wars are resurfacing:

For months, the Republican presidential candidates have hammered away on the economy — and only the economy — as they crisscrossed the campaign trail. But over the past few days, longtime social issues -- contraception, abortion and gay marriage -- have taken the stage in the campaign.

First, Planned Parenthood supporters helped force the resignation of Susan B. Komen Foundation executive Karen Handel after the breast cancer organization cut grants to the family planning group.

Then Catholic bishops began sparring with the White House over a new mandate that all employers cover birth control for women, with very narrow exemptions for Catholic-run institutions.

And on Monday, a federal appeals court in California struck down the state’s gay marriage ban, prompting outrage from the GOP candidates.

All of that is good news for Santorum, a Catholic known for his strident opposition to abortion and homosexuality. His focus on courting religious conservative leaders in Colorado and the large rural evangelical populations in Minnesota and Missouri clearly paid off on Tuesday.

While Santorum is downplaying the role the contraception dispute played in his three-state victory, he attacked President Obama’s mandate repeatedly in the days leading up to the contests. And he didn’t just go after Obama. He also hit at Mitt Romney, who supported the distribution of emergency contraception to rape victims when he was governor of Massachusetts.

More from The Washington Post:

The politics of birth control

Do media wear 'abortion blinders'?

The bright side for Planned Parenthood

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