On January 31 this year the Associated Press broke the news that Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization dedicated to ending breast cancer, would no longer be writing grants to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States and a self-described leader in women’s health care.
For the pro-life camp, the news of the break between the two organizations meant a relief from the boycott of Komen in which many pro-lifers had participated. From the pro-abortion camp, the break brought an outcry alleging that Komen no longer really cared about women. The spilt between the two women’s groups created a media furor, and at the time, a public relations nightmare for the Komen Foundation. The result was that, three days after the AP story broke, Komen reversed its decision. Meanwhile, basic facts of the parting of ways were overlooked.
To begin, Komen had been funding Planned Parenthood for some 20 years, but at the time of the break their grants totaled roughly $700,000 a year, a notably small portion of Planned Parenthood’s annual one billion dollar budget.
Secondly, Planned Parenthood grants were being cut largely because they were “crappy grants,” as one Komen employee characterized them — ”crappy” not because of what Planned Parenthood was doing, but because of what they were not doing.
At the time they ceased funding Planned Parenthood Komen was working on a grant strategy overhaul. Their new grant focus was direct screening and intervention—in other words, mammograms and treatment—neither of which Planned Parenthood offers; it was using Komen grants to offer referrals for these services. This meant two things: one, there was no way to be certain that grant money was directly used for the fight against breast cancer, and two, there was no way Planned Parenthood could follow up to see if women were actually getting breast cancer treatment. This is what made Planned Parenthood grants “crappy” in the eyes of some in Komen.
Then, there was the pesky fact that the Komen grant contract specifically stated that organizations under investigation—at the state or federal level—could not receive grants. Other organizations had had their Komen grants revoked under this clause, yet Planned Parenthood had not, though their organization faced numerous investigations at the state level, and a federal investigation had recently begun. Some Planned Parenthood affiliates had even had their state funding removed — a further disqualification. In short, Komen was acting well within the bounds of its own rules. But that didn’t stop Planned Parenthood, their supporters, and many members of the media from ignoring the facts and declaring war.
According to a new book, Planned Bullyhood: The Truth Behind the Headlines about the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, written by former Komen vice president, Karen Handel, the reproductive health giant breached a “gentle-ladies agreement” with the breast cancer charity and incited a media firestorm surrounding Komen’s decision to halt their Planned Parenthood grants. The relentless pressure from the pro-abortion movement resulted in a reversal of Komen’s decision, despite the pro-life movement’s best efforts to support Komen by donating to their organization, sending supportive emails, and buying the Komen pink paraphernalia which pro-lifers had long resisted out of principle. Subsequently, Handel, a newer hire and a pro-lifer (which was publicly known due to her former political career) stepped down from her post at Komen.
In this tell-all, Komen insider book, among the many insights Handel offers, one point is made startlingly clear—the Komen vs. Planned Parenthood debacle was a calculated battle, instigated by Planned Parenthood as a tactic in the trumped up “War on Women” strategy. This “war” is a constructed narrative which says that anyone who doesn’t support unequivocally abortion, free contraception at the cost of religious freedom, or any other reproductive technology must not really care about women — a claim that is patently absurd. Yet that is the narrative Planned Parenthood and friends seem to think is necessary.
In fact, as Handel explains, what should have been an easy decision to cut off Planned Parenthood was complicated by the politics and opinions regarding Planned Parenthood among even Komen members who were sympathetic to the influential women’s group. “Komen’s new communications vice president noted that Planned Parenthood was ‘under the gun,’” Handel explains, “and that if Komen ended the grants, our organization would deal Planned Parenthood ‘a body blow.’” This is a startling claim considering both how little Komen grants contributed to Planned Parenthood’s large budget and the fact that other organizations had be cut off by Komen for less severe violations of its rules.
But the fact of the matter is that Planned Parenthood was under intense national scrutiny because of the recently begun federal investigation, a sizable and growing young pro-life movement, and continued gains in legislation to inform mothers and protect the unborn child. A recent exposé, coordinated by pro-life activist, Lila Rose, caught Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards lying when she claimed to offer mammograms to women. Even so, Komen wanted this break between the two women’s groups to go smoothly, without accusations of political bias or media furor for either organization.
Because of such wishes, prior to the media blitz launched by Planned Parenthood, Komen worked closely with Hilary Rosen, a communications and media consultant at a firm called SKDKnickerbocker, and Brendan Daly, a PR consultant from a firm called Ogilvy. As Handel explains, both these consultants had close ties with Planned Parenthood and many of their political friends.
Rosen’s partner at SKDKnickerbocker is Anita Dunn, former head of communications for the Obama Administration. Many within Komen were well aware of Rosen’s “heavy hitter” status in DC, her frequent meetings at the White House and her close relationship with Planned Parenthood. For Daly’s part, he had worked with Cecile Richards, at Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s office, and identifies himself on his resume as a Democratic strategist.
According to Handel, though many in Komen saw these connections as beneficial in the navigating of this break—“Komen never saw Planned Parenthood as our enemy,”—these consultants may have aided the coordinated attack Planned Parenthood launched.
“Much was made about me being a conservative and that my personal views drove the decision within Komen, which was not true. But if my personal beliefs were fair game,” she continues, “why weren’t those who had views on the other side of the aisle subject to the same scrutiny?”
Her reporting and support of the facts of Komen’s decision make it clear that it was not beliefs regarding abortion that dictated Komen’s funding decision with regard to Planned Parenthood. Though Handel was painted by the media and others as a staunch pro-lifer, Georgia Right to Life declined to endorse her in her previous run for Georgia governor primarily because of her acceptance of in-vitro fertilization, along with her acceptance of abortion in the case of rape and incest..
Importantly, Handel’s telling of her story adds to another growing narrative in America—that women’s views on these issues are not as easily categorized as Planned Parenthood and friends would like to claim.
The Women Speak For Themselves movement — which I have been assisting from its early days — is another example of this push-back against the narrative that unequivocal support for abortion, contraception and reproductive rights on demand defines a person who cares about women. WSFT members are as diverse as they come in age, religion, socioeconomic background, and positions on contraception, abortion, and other related issues (though as an organization it’s unwaveringly pro-life). But they are united in insisting that women can think for themselves and speak for themselves on these issues.
Handel’s description of the bullying tactics shows what we are up against, but her fighting spirit will strike a chord with the many women who are sick of being “spoken for” by the reproductive health political establishment. As Handel says: “Planned Parenthood brought Komen to its knees, counting on no-one having the guts to stand up to them. Well, what Planned Parenthood didn’t count on is me.”
Meg T. McDonnell is the Communications Director for the Chiaroscuro Foundation.
The Chiaroscuro Institute, an independent public charity related to the Chiaroscuro Foundation, has partnered with Karen Handel and her publisher in promotion of her book.