Karen Handel, the embattled Senior Vice President for Policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, resigned on Tuesday following public outcry over the decision that Komen would withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood. The Komen foundation reversed its decision last Friday, and four days later, Handel is gone.
“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,” Handel wrote in her resignation letter.
HuffingtonPost reported Handel drove the decision to defund Planned Parenthood over abortion politics and unsuccessfully attempted to clean up the public relations mess that ensued.
Crisis management experts interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said this move is another step in the right direction for Susan G. Komen, which is aiming to win back support after the massive backlash that followed their initial decision. The LA Times quoted Michael Gordon, CEO of Group Gordon, a New York-based corporate and crisis communication firm. “Her leaving is part of Komen showing that they get it,” Gordon said. “She was perceived as the cause of the mess.”
Although Handel acknowledges her involvement in the Planned Parenthood decision in her resignation letter, she insists there have been “gross mischaracterizations” of the situation and asserts decision was not about politics. She declined an offer of a severance package from Komen, which likely would have included legal restrictions on her ability to further discuss the situation.
While Komen has maintained it withdrew funds from Planned Parenthood because of a routine change in criteria for who is eligible to receive grants (any organization under Congressional investigation is ineligible) and not due to pressure from anti-abortion activists over the fact Planned Parenthood offers abortion procedures. But a Komen insider told HuffPo that Handel, who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 on a strong anti-abortion platform and a promise to defund Planned Parenthood, has been pushing to drop the organization from grants since she joined Komen in April 2011.
Komen Founder & CEO 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,” Brinker 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.”