ATLANTA - A vice president at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure resigned yesterday, saying that the breast cancer charity should have stood by its politically explosive decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.
Karen Handel, a Republican who opposed abortion as a candidate for Georgia governor, said she was actively engaged in efforts to cut off the grants and said the charity’s reversal hurt its core mission.
“I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it,’’ Handel said in her resignation letter. “I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen’s future and the women we serve.’’
The grants, totaling $680,000 last year, went to breast-screening services offered by Planned Parenthood, which provides a range of women’s health care services, including abortions. Under criteria developed by Komen during Handel’s tenure, Planned Parenthood would have been disqualified from future grants because it was under a congressional investigation launched at the urging of antiabortion activists.
Komen, the nation’s largest breast-cancer charity, reversed course after its decision ignited a three-day firestorm of criticism. Members of Congress and Komen affiliates accused the group’s national leadership of bending to pressure from antiabortion activists.
“Neither the decision nor the changes themselves were based on anyone’s political beliefs or ideology,’’ Handel said. “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 controversy.’’
Handel said the discussion had started before she arrived at the organization last year. She said the charity was concerned that some Roman Catholic dioceses had encouraged believers not to give to Komen because it supported Planned Parenthood.
“I was tasked with identifying options that would allow us to move to neutral ground about this so we weren’t on either side of you know, pro-life, pro-choice,’’ Handel said.
Nancy G. Brinker, Komen founder and chief executive, said she accepted Handel’s resignation and wished her well.
“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.’’
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Andrea Hagelgans declined to comment.
Handel said the now-abandoned policy was fully vetted by the Komen organization. Its board did not raise any objections when it was presented with the proposed policy in November, Handel said.
The breast cancer charity cited a probe backed by antiabortion groups and launched by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, to determine if Planned Parenthood improperly spent public money on abortions.
Planned Parenthood says taxpayer money is strictly separated.