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health world

In wake of Komen-Planned Parenthood rift, eyes turn to Karen Handel

February 01, 2012|By Amina Khan and Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Planned Parenthood supporter Peg Paulson of Carmel, Ind., left, and opponent Heather Pruett of Indianapolis argue during a rally at the Indiana Statehouse on the South Lawn in Indianapolis. The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates in 2012 - creating a bitter rift linked to the abortion debate.
Planned Parenthood supporter Peg Paulson of Carmel, Ind., left, and opponent… (Alan Petersime/The Indianapolis…)

As pro-choice supporters sound off over the decision by Susan G. Komen for the Cure to pull grants to Planned Parenthood for funding breast-cancer screening and other breast health services, some have suggested a link between Tuesday's announcement and Komen's hiring of a self-described "pro-life Christian" last year to a prominent position within the foundation.

Karen Handel, a former secretary of state in Georgia and a Republican activist, was hired in April as vice president of public policy at the Dallas-based Komen. Handel was coming off an unsuccessful run for governor of Georgia during which she frequently called for an end to abortion.

There's no proof that Handel had a role in the foundation's decision to end a relationship between two major women's health organizations that's paid for some 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals since the groups began their partnership in 2005.

Handel could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Executives for the Komen foundation did not respond to requests for comment on the decision to end Planned Parenthood funding or regarding Handel's position on the issue.

Handel has made no bones about her anti-abortion -- and anti-Planned Parenthood -- position. In a July 2010 blog post, Handel explained, "since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood ... 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."

But critics of the Komen decision said they feared the organization had capitulated to anti-abortion sentiment.

"The investigation they refer to is politically motivated and bogus," said Vicky Saporta, president and chief executive of the National Abortion Federation, a professional association of abortion practitioners. "To use that as an excuse to end a relationship that has saved thousands of women's lives is astounding."

Handel's strong anti-abortion stance and stated attitude toward Planned Parenthood have caught the attention of several commentators, including those at the Atlantic and Mother Jones.

Saporta, for one, said she suspects Handel may be involved in the decision.  "A single individual's personal, political beliefs should not get in their way to provide necessary healthcare to women who need that care," Saporta said.

Handel's stance on abortion has been questioned by some who oppose abortion, in fact. A political ad during the 2010 Georgia gubernatorial Republican primary wrongly claimed that Handel provided tax money to an abortion provider -- when in fact it was a downtown Atlanta health clinic that had never performed abortions, according to Factcheck.org, a consumer-advocate site for voters run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

During her run for governor of Georgia, Handel was endorsed by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who defended Handel's anti-abortion stance when other conservative groups painted the candidate as not being pro-life enough for their tastes.

Follow us on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan and @LATshariroan.

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