NEW YORK - Criticizing major players on both sides, former Susan G. Komen for the Cure vice president Karen Handel has written a blistering insider's account of the prominent cancer charity's decision to halt grants to Planned Parenthood and its swift retreat in the face of an intense, widespread backlash.
Titled "Planned Bullyhood" and due for publication on Sept. 11, the book depicts Planned Parenthood as an aggressive, partisan organization that was willing to weaken Komen to further a liberal political agenda. However, Handel - a conservative who resigned from Komen after its reversal - also assails Komen's leadership as indecisive, timid and politically naive, and says the hasty decision to backtrack was "a terrible mistake."
Handel was hired by Komen as vice president for public policy in April 2011 after losing a Republican gubernatorial primary in Georgia, and was given the task of figuring out how to disengage Komen from Planned Parenthood. The grants from Komen were for breast-cancer education and screening, but the charity was under increasing pressure from anti-abortion groups and religious conservatives to cut all ties with Planned Parenthood because, in addition to its other services, it is the nation's leading provider of abortion.
Late in 2011, Komen made a final decision to halt the grants, which totaled $680,000 that year, and its president, Liz Thompson, informed Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, of the decision in mid-December. However, the rift did not become public knowledge until Jan. 31, when The Associated Press broke the news.
Reaction was immediate and passionate. Twitter and Facebook were flooded with denunciations of Komen's action. Democratic members of Congress urged Komen to reconsider, as did some of Komen's own affiliates. Planned Parenthood accused Komen of bowing to right-wing bullying and eagerly mobilized its supporters, raising $3 million in donations within days of the news report.
Handel says she urged Thompson and Komen's CEO and founder, Nancy Brinker, to hold firm and ride out the firestorm, but instead Komen announced on Feb. 3 - just three days after the initial disclosure - that it was shifting gears and restoring Planned Parenthood's eligibility for grants.
Handel, who resigned the next week, was distraught - and she perceived herself being made the scapegoat for a public-relations fiasco.
"I was upset with myself for not better anticipating how Planned Parenthood would attack. I was angry at what I believed was betrayal by my Komen teammates and our own consultants. And I was deeply disappointed that Nancy had not had the courage to stand up for Komen and what she knew was the best decision for the organization," Handel writes.
Komen announced Aug. 9 that Thompson was leaving the organization and that Brinker would relinquish her role as CEO.