A top official at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation resigned today following the charity's decision to reverse its policy barring funding for Planned Parenthood.
Karen Handel, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, denied in her resignation letter that she had anything to do with the decision to end funding for Planned Parenthood, which she says was made under guidelines formulated before she was hired.
Critics of the foundation's decision linked the move to Handel, a vocal opponent of abortion and Planned Parenthood.
"I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it. 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," she wrote in the letter that was obtained by several media outlets. "However, the decision to update our granting model was made before I joined Komen, and the controversy related to Planned Parenthood has long been a concern to the organization. Neither the decision nor the changes themselves were based on anyone's political beliefs or ideology."
"What was a thoughtful and thoroughly reviewed decision - one that would have indeed enabled Komen to deliver even greater community impact - has unfortunately been turned into something about politics. This is entirely untrue. This development should sadden us all greatly," she added.
Handel declined a severance package.
The Susan G. Komen foundation confirmed Handel's resignation and acknowledged "mistakes" in the way it handled the controversy that erupted last week.
"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," the organization's chief executive and founder, Nancy Brinker, said in a statement. "Today I accepted the resignation of Karen Handel… 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. I wish her the best in future endeavors."
Amid intense media scrutiny and a public backlash, Brinker apologized on Friday for cutting off funding from Planned Parenthood and said the foundation would amend its criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal in nature, not political.
A congressional committee, led by anti-abortion Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., is looking into Planned Parenthood affiliates to see whether they used taxpayer money to fund abortions.
Brinker had vehemently denied that the decision to cut the funding was political. But critics pointed out that Planned Parenthood was the only one of the foundation's 2,000 recipients to fall under the axe. The Susan G. Komen foundation gives about $650,000 yearly to 19 Planned Parenthood clinics for breast cancer screening and other preventative services.
The decision, announced a week ago, sparked a public outcry. A number of Komen foundation board members resigned in the wake of that decision while Planned Parenthood raised more than $3 million for its breast cancer program since the controversy erupted.