WASHINGTON — Karen Handel, a top official of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, who was involved in the controversy over the group’s funding of Planned Parenthood, resigned Tuesday.
Handel, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate narrowly defeated in the 2010 GOP primary by Nathan Deal, acknowledged that she had supported Komen’s decision to pull funding for Planned Parenthood in a resignation letter obtained by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
However, she said the decision-making process began before she joined the organization last year as vice president for public policy, and was thoroughly vetted and unanimously agreed to at every level within the organization — including at a November meeting of the board.
“The Board specifically discussed various issues, including the need to protect our mission by ensuring we were not distracted or negatively affected by any other organization’s real or perceived challenges,” Handel wrote to Komen’s CEO and founder Nancy Brinker.
Handel also said she was “deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterization” of her involvement. The policy change, which would have barred grants to organizations under government investigation, was reversed last week. Planned Parenthood is the subject of a probe launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.) into whether it has used federal funds to pay for abortions.
During her bid for governor of Georgia, Handel ran on a platform of defunding Planned Parenthood. Several former Komen employees have said that Handel was a driving force behind the decision to defund Planned Parenthood.
“Questions about the issue of our involvement with Planned Parenthood significantly ramped up at the time Komen decided to hire Karen,” said John Hammerly, a former senior communications adviser at Komen, who left the Foundation in August 2011.
A Komen board member, John Raffaelli, has disputed that account.
In her resignation letter, Handel, who joined Komen in January 2011, said that “the controversy related to Planned Parenthood has long been a concern to the organization,” and that the de-funding decision was not 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.”
Handel said she appreciated an offer by Brinker of a severance package, but declined it.
Petitions calling for Handel’s resignation have been circulating on liberal web sites in recent days.
In a statement on Handel’s resignation, Brinker said, “We have made mistakes in how we have handled recent decisions and take full accountability for what has resulted.”