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Karen Handel explains Komen resignation, blasts Planned Parenthood

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

February 07, 2012|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Karen Handel speaks during an interview in Atlanta on Tuesday. Handel earlier announced her resignation as vice president for public policy for breast-cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Karen Handel speaks during an interview in Atlanta on Tuesday. Handel earlier… (John Bazemore / Associated…)

Karen Handel says she resigned as a vice president for Susan G. Komen for the Cure because she had become "too much of a focal point" in the controversy surrounding Komen’s decision to cut its funding to Planned Parenthood -- a decision that, after a torrent of public outcry, was reversed within days.

"I really felt I had a responsibility to step aside so that [Komen] could refocus on their mission," Handel told Fox News in an interview Tuesday.

The resignation follows close on the heels of accusations that Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who campaigned partly on a promise to yank state funding from Planned Parenthood, brought that same intent to the Dallas-based Komen when she was hired as senior vice president of public policy in April -- an accusation that Handel denies.

Last week, it was revealed that Komen would be pulling future funds under a newly minted policy that prevented grant-giving to any organization under any type of investigation.

Under this new guideline -- reportedly devised late last year but publicly revealed last Tuesday -- Planned Parenthood would not be funded, because it is currently the subject of an inquiry by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who is looking into whether the organization used any federal funds for abortion-related services, which would be illegal.

Following two full days of outcry on Wednesday and Thursday, Komen revised the policy on Friday to include only those investigations that are criminal and conclusive in nature. 

Handel first denied that the decision had been in any way related to the political controversy, and was quick to blame Planned Parenthood for politicizing the debate.

"The mission was always foremost in everyone’s mind:  the mission and the women that we serve,” Handel said. "The only group that has made this issue political has been Planned Parenthood."

But when asked later about her role in the decision, Handel appeared to admit that the group had long been under pressure from anti-abortion advocates.

"It’s no secret that Komen and other organizations that were funding Planned Parenthood had been under pressure for some years, long before my time," Handel said, later adding, "Komen was doing its level best to move to neutral ground -- and I will say, I was asked to look at options for doing that."

But when asked whether the funding-cut push was her idea, as was contended in a Huffington Post interview that cited internal emails, Handel sidestepped the question.

"I'm saying that this was long an issue for Komen, dealing with the controversies of Planned Parenthood," she responded.

Handel said she would not be accepting a severance package that the Komen foundation had offered her.

"Look, this is a nonprofit and I am very much aware of that," Handel said. "I was doing my job ... and I wasn’t interested in having a paycheck ... I wanted to do the right thing on my own terms and that’s what I tried to do."

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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