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Vice President of Public Policy resigns after controversy with Planned Parenthood

Lindsey Barrett / Lantern photographer

Karen Handel, senior vice president of public policy for Susan G. Komen for the Cure since April 2011, announced Tuesday she would be stepping down after the recent controversy about cutting off funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood centers.

Komen was accused of making the choice to no longer give grants to Planned Parenthood for political reasons. Some claimed Handel, former secretary of state of Georgia and self-declared “pro-life Republican,” was behind the initiative to cut off ties with the health organization consistently under fire from conservatives about their reproductive options for patients that include abortion.

“I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale and my involvement in it,” Handel said in her resignation letter to Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker. “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.”

Her resignation came one week after Komen first publicized their conclusion to no longer fund Planned Parenthood due to a newly enacted stipulation that any organization receiving funds from Komen might not be under any kind of government investigation. Planned Parenthood is currently under investigation for alleged misuse of government funds and other accusations by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

The decision to defund was retracted last Friday and funding for screenings at Planned Parenthood is still in place.

“I think Komen is doing the right thing,” said Betsy Pillion, a third-year in linguistics, on the decision to keep the Planned Parenthood grants. “I’m glad they corrected their decision to defund.”

Pillion said she considers Komen’s original decision to be a political one.

“I wouldn’t question it so much if they made their stipulation to say investigations must be legitimate and not a smoke screen,” she said. “This was certainly political.”

Others are unsure.

“Regardless if it was Planned Parenthood or not, it was for cancer screenings,” said Christina Flessa, a second-year in sociology. “I think they got so much negative feedback it became political.”

Many think the issue has caused people to lose sight of Komen’s mission.

“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,” said Brinker in a public statement Tuesday. “Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s mission is the same today as it was the day of its founding: to find a cure and eradicate breast cancer.”

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