Karen Handel, vice president for public affairs at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, resigned on Tuesday following public outcry over the announcement Komen would pull funding from Planned Parenthood. After Komen reversed its decision, The Huffington Post reported that Handel drove the decision to defund Planned Parenthood over abortion politics and crafted the strategy to clean up the public relations mess that ensued.
Although she acknowledges her involvement in the Planned Parenthood decision in her resignation letter, she also decries what she calls "gross mischaracterizations" of the situation and maintains that the decision was not about politics:
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.
Komen has maintained that it pulled funds from Planned Parenthood because of a routine change in criteria for who is eligible to receive grants -- not because of pressure from anti-abortion activists over the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortions. But a Komen insider told HuffPost on Sunday that Handel, who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 on the promise to defund Planned Parenthood, has been pushing to drop the organization from grants since she was hired in April 2011.
In her signoff, possibly as an acknowledgment of the public outrage toward her, Handel waives her right to a severance package:
"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," she writes. "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."
Komen founder Nancy Brinker accepted Handel's resignation on Tuesday and said in a statement that Komen is learning from its mistakes.
"We have made mistakes in how we have handled recent decisions and take full accountability for what has resulted, but we cannot take our eye off the ball when it comes to our mission," she said. "To do this effectively, we must learn from what we've done right, what we've done wrong and achieve our goal for the millions of women who rely on us. The stakes are simply too high and providing hope for a cure must drive our efforts.
"Today I accepted the resignation of Karen Handel, who has served as Senior Vice President for Policy since April 2011. I have known Karen for many years, and we both share a common commitment to our organization's lifelong mission, which must always remain our sole focus. I wish her the best in future endeavors."