How Komen lost its Handel
The executive at the heart of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure media fracas, blamed for cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood, spoke to Human Events exclusively about her version of events, which are detailed in a new book, “Planned Bullyhood.”
Planned Parenthood, which counsels women in a number of areas but is best known for providing contraception and abortions, launched its media assault on Komen Jan. 29, a Sunday, and it continued into the next day—all while a Planned Parenthood representative was in Komen offices agreeing to handle the matter quietly, said Karen C. Handel, the Washington native, who joined Komen after losing the 2010 GOP nomination for governor of Georgia. Handel had a business and political career in Georgia that culminated in her election as Georgia’s secretary of state in 2006.
In the previous months, Komen President Elizabeth Thompson and CEO and founder Nancy Goodman Brinker asked Handel, Komen’s vice-president for public policy, to find a way to transition away from their support to Planned Parenthood, she said.
Brinker, sister of Susan Goodman Komen, the breast cancer victim for whom the group is named, and Thompson were anxious about how the foundation was getting pulled into the abortion debate, she said.
Complaints from affiliates
Local affiliates were telling headquarters they were losing individual contributors, corporate sponsors and participants for its fundraising events because Komen gave grants to Planned Parenthood of approximately $680,000, she said. The grants went to Planned Parenthood and some of its local chapters in support of its breast cancer screening referral service and its breast cancer education programs.
As some affiliates complained about Planned Parenthood, there was a significant faction of affiliates and Komen staffers, who supported Planned Parenthood and were committed to protecting abortion rights, she said.
One woman told Komen executives that the right to have an abortion was so important that Komen needed to continue to grants to Planned Parenthood—even if it hurt Komen, Handel said.
“We generally believed that these were two organizations that had had such a long standing partnership that we would be able to work through any issues,” she said.
Handel, who focused on breast cancer issues as aide to Marilyn Tucker Quayle when her husband was vice president, said she found an elegant solution. Quayle’s own mother died from the disease.
Concurrent to the Planned Parenthood anxiety, there were two developments inside Komen. The first was that Komen’s grant-making process was moving towards supporting direct providers, who would then be judged by outcome and results metrics, she said. In its breast cancer screening program, Planned Parenthood was not a direct provider, rather it provided referrals to women, for which it collected a fee.
Komen’s focus on outcomes had already put a major metropolitan hospital serving the indigent on probation for its grants, she said. The hospital and Komen resolved the issues and the grants from Komen to the hospital continued.
The second development was that Komen created its own education tool kit for its affiliates, which supplanted the need to hire Planned Parenthood for a role in educational outreach, she said.
To help navigate the media waters during the funding transition, Komen hired Hillary Rosen, the liberal activist who taunted Ann Romney for never worked a day in her life, she said.
Komen also had an expectation that Thompson’s friendship with Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood and a former aide to Rep. Nancy P. Pelosi (D-Calif.), would lead to the two groups finding a way to partner in the future, she said.
Handel said she became aware that Planned Parenthood had deked Komen that Monday afternoon when she saw an email from the Associated Press reporter David Crary. “We were sitting ducks.”
It was obvious Crary’s story was already written in cooperation with Planned Parenthood and that the outreach to Komen was an afterthought, she said.
Still, inside Komen the agreed-upon strategy was to let its simple press statement stand, and Leslie Aun, Komen’s communications director was thus informed, she said.
Komen off the rails
Handel said she is still confused about what happened next.
“Leslie just walked down the hall and inexplicably gave an interview,” she said. Aun spoke to Crary and told him that the decision was made because Planned Parenthood was under investigation by a House subcommittee. “I just don’t know why she did what she did—it is certainly curious, especially with Rosen in the office, and once she followed Crary down that rabbit hole, down that whole line of thinking—Komen was off the rails.”
In addition to the press accounts, Planned Parenthood was reaching out to Komen’s corporate sponsors and threatening to tar them with the same brush unless they cut off support the breast cancer foundation, she said.
It was getting worse, she said. “Fast forward to the Andrea Mitchell interview.” Brinker, who once sat on the Planned Parenthood board of directors, came onto MSNBC for a Feb. 2 interview with Mitchell.
“It was clear, too, that she had been briefed and loaded for bear,” Handel said. “She treated Brinker with such disdain and rudeness,” she said. “Her level of unprofessionalism was quite stunning.”
Handel listened to the interview thinking about the prep session she and others held with Brinker, she said. “I just had a horrible feeling. I just knew it was going to be a disaster. I just kept saying: ‘Don’t make any new news. It’s Thursday.’” No new news meant the story would die over the weekend.
Then, Mitchell asked Brinker how she could have hired Handel, a pro-lifer, she said. “When Brinker said she had nothing to do with the decision, I just knew everything would be ratcheted up to a higher level.”
Handel resigned on Feb. 7.
Looking back as she wrote the book, Handel, who was endorsed for governor by Sarah Palin, said she is struck by twist of events. Her race for governor turned on the abortion issue—because she said her support of exception in some cases, was deemed not anti-abortion enough. She was not endorsed by Georgia Right to Life.
“There were some very hard moments in the governor’s race,” she said. “Not losing, that happens in life,” she said. “There is a difference between the rough and tumble of politics and crossing the line of human decency.”
Pro-life advocates charged that she was “barren and desperate” and that in her world she would have aborted Palin’s son Trig, she said. “You just have to smile at the irony;” in Georgia, she was called too pro-abortion. “Then the left dubbed me as some sort of pro-life zealot, who just arrived at Komen with some kind of, I don’t know, pro-life fairy dust that I sprinkled on them,” she said.
“God has a plan for everyone’s life, I don’t have the foggiest idea what it is,” she said. “Each of us has a responsibility to view the things that are put in our lives and before us as opportunities to do the best we can with them.”
For Handel, her opportunity in front of her is to spread the word about the true nature of Planned Parenthood and how they bullied the country’s leading organization in the fight against breast cancer to protect its cash flow, she said.