By Julian Pecquet - 02/08/12 01:08 AM EST
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Vice President Karen Handel resigned Tuesday after bearing the brunt of the criticism for the breast-cancer charity’s now-retracted decision to end funding for Planned Parenthood.
Critics had portrayed Handel as the driving force behind the decision, which has since been reversed, to cut off grant money for the nation’s largest abortion provider. Handel ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 and argued passionately against taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood during her campaign.
“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 a focal point, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a truly great organization that has done wonderful things,” Handel told Fox News. “I really felt I had a responsibility to step aside so that they could refocus on their mission.”
Handel denounced the “vicious attacks and coercion” of Planned Parenthood and said the decision to terminate the group’s funding “was to try to get to a place of neutral ground and move in that place so that Komen was not in the middle” of the debate over abortion.
The decision had the opposite effect.
Shortly after Komen told Planned Parenthood about its decision to pull the $700,000 it provides for the group’s clinics every year, thousands of donors threatened to abandon the foundation. Democratic lawmakers weighed in — Rep. Jackie Speier (Calif.) said she could no longer support the organization — and several liberal groups launched petitions for Komen to fire Handel.
On Friday, Komen reversed the decision.
Liberal groups and their allies in Congress declared victory Tuesday after Handel’s resignation.
“Karen Handel is out at #Komen,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) tweeted Tuesday. “Time for the organization to refocus on its mission of preventing & curing breast cancer.”
Handel’s resignation is unlikely to quell the controversy, however.
Abortion-rights opponents expressed outrage at the foundation’s reversal last week, and vowed to ramp up the pressure on Planned Parenthood.
“I’m extremely disappointed in Komen’s decision to restore Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for funding,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in a news release Friday. “While Komen now claims that they don’t want their mission to be ‘marred by politics,’ unfortunately it seems that Komen caved to political pressure from the pro-abortion movement and its enforcers in the media.”
The battle to defund Planned Parenthood now shifts back to the Republican-controlled House, where Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) has launched a probe into the group’s finances that was initially cited as a rationale for Komen’s defunding decision. On Tuesday, an anti-abortion-rights group gave Stearns a report accusing Planned Parenthood of “potential fraud,” and called on Congress to schedule investigatory hearings “immediately.”
“Americans deserve to know if their hard-earned tax money is being funneled to groups that are misusing it,” Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel Steven Aden said in a news release. “Planned Parenthood has to play by the same rules as everyone else. It certainly isn’t entitled to a penny of public funds, especially if it is committing Medicare fraud.”
In a statement accepting Handel’s resignation, Komen founder Nancy Brinker said the foundation made “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.”
Brinker went on to praise Handel, who had been in her position 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,” she said. “I wish her the best in future endeavors.”
This story was posted at 11:28 a.m. and updated at 11:54 a.m. and 8:08 p.m.