Komen VP resignation unlikely to ease political debate

It should be some session with reporters in Georgia today when Karen Handel, who has resigned as VP of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, speaks about her departure and, presumably, the dust-up caused by last week’s defunding — and subsequent refunding — of Planned Parenthood. Handel’s fingerprints appear to be on the original decision.

She refused a severance package, which usually comes in exchange for keeping silent about the inner workings of an organization. Bottom line: There’ll be some quotable statements in Goergia today.

In her resignation e-mail, Handel acknowledges she played a big part in the decision. In an earlier interview, Komen founder Nancy Brinker said she didn’t. Somebody’s lying.

Here’s her resignation email:


Dear Ambassador Brinker:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has been the recognized leader for more 30 years in the fight against breast cancer here in the US – and increasingly around the world.

As you know, I have always kept Komen’s mission and the women we serve as my highest priority – as they have been for the entire organization, the Komen Affiliates, our many supporters and donors, and the entire community of breast cancer survivors. I have carried out my responsibilities faithfully and in line with the Board’s objectives and the direction provided by you and Liz.

We can all agree that this is a challenging and deeply unsettling situation for all involved in the fight against breast cancer. However, Komen’s decision to change its granting strategy and exit the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood and its grants was fully vetted by every appropriate level within the organization. At the November Board meeting, the Board received a detailed review of the new model and related criteria. As you will recall, 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. No objections were made to moving forward.

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.

Just as Komen’s best interests and the fight against breast cancer have always been foremost in every aspect of my work, so too are these my priorities in coming to the decision to resign effective immediately. While I appreciate your raising a possible severance package, I respectfully decline. It is my most sincere hope that Komen is allowed to now refocus its attention and energies on its mission.

With Handel aboard, there was no way the Komen wasn’t going to be seen as bowing to politics in its Planned Parenthood decision, considering that she’d run for governor of Georgia before and made her position pretty clear:


First, let me be clear, since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood. During my time as Chairman of Fulton County, there were federal and state pass-through grants that were awarded to Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screening, as well as a “Healthy Babies Initiative.” The grant was authorized, regulated, administered and distributed through the State of Georgia. Because of the criteria, regulations and parameters of the grant, Planned Parenthood was the only eligible vendor approved to meet the state criteria. Additionally, none of the services in any way involved abortions or abortion-related services. In fact, state and federal law prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for abortions or abortion related services and I strongly support those laws. Since grants like these are from the state I’ll eliminate them as your next Governor.

Even if it’s true — unlikely though it seems — that the entire Komen episode wasn’t a political coup unraveling, it appears unlikely the organization can escape the political sphere it’s spent the last few days desperately trying to avoid.

  • BenCh
  • Jon

    I read the second quote block 3 times, and i’m still scratching my head…

    Because planned parenthood is the only organization qualified to do breast and cervical cancer screenings, and she is pro-life, no one gets breast and cervical cancer screenings, even though there are laws (that she supports) to keep that money from going towards abortions.

    I suspect this means I no longer have to pay taxes because I don’t agree with everything the government does. Good news to hear, and I hope when people that feel this way are elected to the be in charge of the executive branch, that they choose to stop enforcing laws around tax payment for those with moral objections to the governments actions.

  • Alison

    Well, they aren’t losing my donation over this controversy. They lost that years ago due to their absurd level of pink washing.

  • Jim Shapiro

    BenCh – Wow.

    While the level of corruption in the Komen foundation is impressive,

    all organizations run the risk that their original mission will be subordinated to prioritizing the growth and power of the organization itself.*

    (*See Catholic Church, US Government, etc.)