lady business

Karen Handel, Top Komen Executive, Resigns [Updated]

Photo: Chris Savas

Karen Handel, a former GOP candidate for Georgia governor, has stepped down as senior vice-president for public affairs of the Susan G. Komen foundation. Her resignation follows a week in which the foundation first rescinded funding for Planned Parenthood, then, following widespread outcry, retracted the move. Handel, who has long been very publicly pro-life, was reportedly the driving force behind the decision, and calls for her resignation had multiplied in the past few days; even Komen supporters sympathetic to her worldview were upset by the way the situation played out. It was roundly considered a PR disaster, and it’s unclear whether Handel’s departure can restore any of the good will the foundation hemorrhaged last week. 

Handel, meanwhile, doesn’t look as if she’ll go quietly into that good night. She’s created a Twitter account to “discuss” Komen and Planned Parenthood, and she put her resignation letter on her personal website:

I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the 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. However, the decision to update our granting model was made before I joined Komen, and the controversy related to Planned Parenthood has long been a concern to the organization. Neither the decision nor the changes themselves were 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. I believe that Komen, like any other nonprofit organization, has the right and the responsibility to set criteria and highest standards for how and to whom it grants.

What was a thoughtful and thoroughly reviewed decision — one that would have indeed enabled Komen to deliver even greater community impact — has unfortunately been turned into something about politics. This is entirely untrue. This development should sadden us all greatly.

So while Handel might have torched Komen’s brand, she’s raised awareness of her own as a culture warrior, and positioned herself to become a grassroots right-wing hero — a more useful severance package, perhaps, than the one she declined to take from the Komen board.

Speaking of the Komen board, Mother Jones’s Clara Jeffrey digs into its composition a bit: Though the nine-person board is theoretically evenly balanced between Republicans and Democrats, there’s a visible clique: A critical mass of the group comes from Dallas’s high society, and like the founder Nancy Brinkley, has ties to the Republican party.  Jeffrey also takes issue with the way the board has decided to allocate its funding:

New energy might, for example, persuade the board that it’s time to change the balance between money spent on treatment (8%), screening (15%), research (24%), and “education” (34%). Two decades ago, it was of utmost importance to get women to get over the fear and the shame and into the doctor’s office, to go public with scars and wigs and hot flashes. But mission accomplished, Komen. Now it’s time to put more weight into stopping the disease before it starts. Dig deep enough into Komen’s financial statements, and you’ll find that of the 24 percent they spend on research, only 15 percent goes to explore how to prevent the disease.

Handel, Top Komen Executive, Resigns [Updated]