Komen Senior VP Quits

February 7, 2012       Mark Hrywna      

Karen Handel, the senior vice president of advocacy for Susan G. Komen for the Cure who had become the lightning rod for Komen’s decision to discontinue grant funding to Planned Parenthood, has resigned.

Handel, who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 as a strong anti-abortion candidate on the Republican ticket, is expected to have a session with reporters later today in Atlanta. Her resignation comes four days after Komen backtracked on its decision to discontinue funding and one week after the news became public.

In a carefully phrased, 453-word letter emailed to Komen Founder and CEO Nancy Brinker this morning, Handel outlined a yearlong decision making process that allegedly included Komen’s board. She also declined an apparent severance package that was offered. “While I appreciate your raising a possible severance package, I respectfully decline,” she wrote.

Handel acknowledged her “role in the matter” but said the decision to update Komen’s granting model was made before she joined the organization in January 2011, adding that the controversy related to Planned Parenthood “has long been a concern” to the organization. She expressed disappointment by the “gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale,” and her involvement in it.

“Komen’s decision to change its granting strategy and exit the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood and its grants was fully vetted at every appropriate level within the organization,” Handel wrote. At its meeting in November, the board received a “detailed review of the new model and related criteria,” and 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. No objections were made to moving forward,” she said.

“What was a thoughtful and thoroughly review decision – one that would have indeed enabled Komen to deliver greater community impact – has unfortunately been turned into something about politics. This is entirely untrue. This development should sadden us all greatly,” Handel wrote.

“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 the 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.”

In a statement released this morning, Brinker said the organization’s mission is the “same today as it was the day of its founding: to find a cure and eradicate breast cancer.”

“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,” Brinker said in a statement released this morning about Handel’s resignation. “To do this effectively, we must learn from what we’ve done right, what we’ve done wrong and achieve our goal for the missions of women who rely on us.”

“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,” Brinker said.

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