Karen Handel, the politically embattled former vice president of public affairs for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has broken her silence about her role in the breast cancer charity's decision to defund Planned Parenthood and her decision to step down from her post.
"First of all, I clearly acknowledge that I was involved in the process," she said on Fox News. "But to suggest that I had the sole authority is just absurd. The process was vetted. The policies were vetted at all the appropriate levels in the organization."
Handel's statement directly contradicts what Komen executives have been telling the public since the decision was announced last week.
"Karen did not have anything to do with this decision," Komen founder Nancy Brinker told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Thursday. "This was decided at the board level and also by our mission."
Komen has maintained that it pulled funds from Planned Parenthood, which the women's health and family planning organization used to provide breast exams to low-income women, because of a routine change in criteria governing the type of organizations eligible to receive grants -- not because of pressure from anti-abortion activists over the fact that some Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortions.
But a Komen insider told The Huffington Post on Sunday that Handel, who promised to defund Planned Parenthood during her 2010 campaign for governor of Georgia, has been pushing to drop the organization from grants since she was hired in April 2011. The source provided HuffPost with emails exchanged among Komen executives that prove Handel was the driving force behind the decision.
Handel told Fox News that she blamed the public backlash against Komen on "vicious attacks" from Planned Parenthood.
"The last time I checked, private non-profit organizations have a right and a responsibility to be able to set the highest standards and criteria on their own without interference, let alone the level of vicious attacks and coercion that has occurred by Planned Parenthood," she said.
But the backlash did not only come from Planned Parenthood. More than 50 members of Congress signed letters asking Komen to reverse course, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly rebuked Komen and pledged $250,000 to Planned Parenthood, and approximately 37,000 people from all over the country signed a petition demanding that Handel resign.
Handel told Fox News' Megyn Kelly that she resigned because too much of the focus had shifted to her.
"I resigned because it was clear that all of this had gotten to a point where it was ratcheted so high, I was too much of a focal point," she said. "Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a truly great organization that has done wonderful things. It has made an extraordinary impact in the fight against breast cancer. I thought I had a responsibility to step aside so they can refocus on their mission."
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