Before the Komen board unanimously agreed to pull funding for Planned Parenthood last year, an internal staff review and a board subcommittee had concluded the opposite, that funding should be maintained, according to a former Komen employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Handel, who was senior vice president for public policy, objected to those decisions.
It’s not clear why the full board did not follow the recommendations when it voted unanimously at a November meeting to take actions that would bar funding to Planned Parenthood and what role Handel played. Several former Komen employees have said that Handel was a driving force behind the decision.
Handel’s role has been the focus of intense speculation, but she has not commented publicly until now. In her resignation letter and in comments to reporters Tuesday, Handel said she had supported the initial decision to pull funding and that the policy change was thoroughly vetted at every level within the organization.
On Friday, after a torrent of public reaction, Komen reversed course. Komen will no longer bar organizations that are under government investigation from applying for grants. As a result, Planned Parenthood, which is the focus of a House probe over whether it used federal funds to pay for abortions, will once again be eligible to apply.
Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker said the foundation’s decisions were not based on political reasons and were not intended to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood.
In her resignation letter, Handel noted that the board fully supported the decision.
“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,” she wrote. She added: “No objections were made to moving forward.”
She also wrote: “I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterization of this 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.”
In an interview Tuesday with Fox News, Handel added: “I clearly acknowledge that I was involved in the process, but to suggest that I had the sole authority is just absurd.” She said she still believes that Komen should defund Planned Parenthood.
During an unsuccessful campaign for governor of Georgia in 2010, Handel ran on a platform that included defunding Planned Parenthood. Before she ran for governor, Handel had been secretary of state in Georgia and was viewed as a centrist Republican. Conservative groups attacked Handel for not supporting antiabortion policies strongly enough.