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Anti-Abortion Komen Vice President Pushed For Split From Planned Parenthood

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"Anti-Abortion Komen Vice President Pushed For Split From Planned Parenthood"

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Karen Handel, Komen's senior vice president for public policy

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation caved to right-wing pressure and cut ties with Planned Parenthood. Their rationale was simple: Komen had new rules preventing it from funding any organization under investigation, so a spurious congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood led by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) prohibited Komen from continuing to fund breast exams through Planned Parenthood for women who otherwise wouldn’t receive them.

But now, new reporting from the Atlantic reveals that Komen adopted the new guidelines to cut off Planned Parenthood. That effort was led by Komen President Elizabeth Thompson, who knew that Planned Parenthood was the only group that would be affected by the rule, and Karen Handel, Komen’s new senior vice president for public policy.

Handel, who came on board in April, is a former secretary of state in Georgia and a Republican activist who describes herself as a “pro-life Christian.” Handel ran for governor of Georgia on an anti-abortion platform, and was endorsed by Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. She wrote during her failed gubernatorial campaign that “since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.”

In December, Komen made the decision to stop supporting Planned Parenthood even though Komen’s professional staff recommended that the foundation continue to fund the organization. The decision caused an “uproar” at Komen, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reports:

[T]he organization’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood. Williams, who served as the managing director of community health programs, was responsible for directing the distribution of $93 million in annual grants. [...]

But John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen’s senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public relations aspects of Komen’s Planned Parenthood grant, said that Williams believed she could not honorably serve in her position once Komen had caved to pressure from the anti-abortion right. “Mollie is one of the most highly-respected and ethical people inside the organization, and she felt she couldn’t continue under these conditions,” Hammarley said. “The Komen board of directors are very politically savvy folks, and I think over time they thought if they gave in to the very aggressive propaganda machine of the anti-abortion groups, that the issue would go away. It seemed very short-sighted to me.”

Hammarley, who was laid off from Komen last year, said that for about a year, a small group within Komen began discussing the ramifications of cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood. “As we looked at the ramifications of ceasing all funding, we felt it would be worse from a practical standpoint, from a public relations standpoint and from a mission standpoint. The mission standpoint is, ‘How could we abandon our commitment to the screening work done by Planned Parenthood?’” he said.

Komen’s grants to Planned Parenthood totaled $680,000 in 2011 and $580,000 in 2010, going to at least 19 affiliates of Planned Parenthood to fund breast-cancer screenings and other breast-health services. Since the two organizations partnered in 2005, Komen’s grants have paid for roughly 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals. But right-wing anti-choice organizations have targeted the partnership since 2005 because Planned Parenthood also provides abortions. In December, the Southern Baptist Convention recalled pink Bibles that it sold to raise money for breast cancer research, citing an “unacceptable link” between Komen and Planned Parenthood.

Conservatives cheered Komen’s decision, while others have found it awfully convenient that the grants to Planned Parenthood were stopped after the hiring of an anti-abortion activist.

Update

Without actually mentioning Planned Parenthood, Komen founder Nancy Brinker says in a new video that Komen’s actions have been “mischaracterized.” “We will never bow to political pressure… We will never turn our backs on the women who need us the most,” she adds.

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