A top official of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation who was involved in the controversy over the group’s funding of Planned Parenthood resigned Tuesday.
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.
During an unsuccessful bid for governor of Georgia in 2010, Handel ran on a platform of defunding Planned Parenthood. Several former Komen employees have said that Handel was a driving force behind Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood.
“Questions about the issue of our involvement with Planned Parenthood significantly ramped up at the time Komen decided to hire Karen,” said John Hammerly, a former senior communications advisor at Komen, who left the Foundation in August 2011.
A Komen board member, John Raffaelli, has disputed that account.
In her resignation letter, Handel, who began working for Komen in January 2011, said that “the controversy related to Planned Parenthood has long been a concern to the organization,” and that the de-funding decision was not 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.”
Handel said she appreciated an offer by Brinker of a severance package, but declined it.
Petitions calling for Handel’s resignation have been circulating on liberal web sites in recent days.
In a statement on Handel’s resignation, Brinker said, “We have made mistakes in how we have handled recent decisions and take full accountability for what has resulted.”