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Susan G. Komen for the Cure has long been under pressure

Antiabortion activists have tried for years to break the foundation's ties to Planned Parenthood.

February 03, 2012|By Karen Kaplan, Shari Roan and Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times

Churches and schools with antiabortion beliefs also made a point of boycotting Race for the Cure events, forbidding students from forming teams, Silver said.

Eventually a small group of Komen staffers including Hammarley began discussing a strategy for managing the Planned Parenthood issue, analyzing a number of options including halting all grants to Planned Parenthood, maintaining the status quo or something in between, he said. After assessing how these alternatives could affect Komen and its affiliates, they recommended staying the course to avoid a backlash.

"Any retreat from that would have the potential of upsetting any number of populations — the affiliates, the patients, or political factions," Hammarley said.

But when Stearns opened his inquiry in September, abortion opponents saw it as a perfect opening to press Komen. Among them, many believe, was Karen Handel, who had joined Komen about five months earlier as the organization's senior vice president for public policy.

Handel, a self-described pro-life Christian, had served as Georgia's secretary of state and lost a close race to be the Republican nominee for governor in 2010. During that campaign, she told voters she was "staunchly and unequivocally pro-life" and pledged to end state grants to Planned Parenthood clinics that funded breast and cervical cancer screening programs.

Handel did not return calls to discuss the matter.

Brinker herself has given tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and committees, including antiabortion politicians like President George W. Bushand House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), according to Federal Election Commission records.

Despite Brinker's insistence this week that the decision had unanimous backing from the staff and board, not everyone was happy with the decision. Mollie Williams, Komen's managing director for community health programs, quit the organization the day after the decision was made in December. Brinker declined to discuss Williams' departure this week, but people familiar with the details of the situation say she resigned in protest.

In a statement, Williams said she couldn't talk about the reasons for her resignation. "However," she added, "anyone who knows me personally would tell you that I am an advocate for women's health. I have dedicated my career to fighting for the rights of the marginalized and underserved. And I believe it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission."

Members of Komen affiliates were also alarmed by the decision. Leaders of the Denver outpost released a letter to their supporters to make it clear that they had nothing to do with the move and had initiated a "fight to reverse this decision." Other chapters weighed in as well, ultimately succeeding in restoring Planned Parenthood's funding eligibility.

Komen board member John Raffaelli, a Washington lobbyist, said he hoped the organization would learn something from the controversy. "How does a women's health organization keep abortion from interfering with its mission?" he said. "I think that's the question we have to deal with in the future."

Silver, the antiabortion activist, said she was never convinced that Komen officials were ready to cut their ties with Planned Parenthood. Had they been serious, she said, they could have made their opposition to Planned Parenthood's abortion activities plain instead of spinning a story about technical changes to funding rules.

"Komen's ideology was still in league with Planned Parenthood," Silver said. Abortion opponents who thought they had notched a victory this week will be "very distraught and disappointed," she added.

Conservative activists had been making plans to step up fundraising on Komen's behalf, but those efforts have stopped.

Silver said she would continue pressuring Komen until it made a clean break from Planned Parenthood.

Times Staff Writer Jeannine Stein contributed to this report.

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