Karen Handel, one-time senior vice president for public policy at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, said Planned Parenthood’s January funding battle with Komen was a "test campaign" for President Barack Obama’s reelection. The media blitz and public outcry followed by Komen’s capitulation, she said, convinced Democratic strategists that social issues could lead Democrats to victory in 2012.
Komen found itself mired in controversy when it announced it would no longer provide funding for Planned Parenthood. Liberals and Democratic politicians charged that the organization was putting politics ahead of the health of women. Pro-life advocates pointed out Planned Parenthood did not actually perform mammograms.
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Komen reversed course, reinstated the funding, and fired Handel, who recounted the events in her recent memoir Planned Bullyhood.
The Komen fight convinced Democratic operatives that Obama could keep his hold on the Oval Office by dividing the electorate on abortion despite a weak economic recovery, a foreign policy scandal, the bankruptcy of expensive solar energy projects, and numerous broken promises.
Fifty-five percent of women voted for Obama and women made up 53 percent of the electorate this year. An October Gallup poll of registered voters in swing states found that more women said abortion (39 percent) rather than jobs (19 percent) was "the most important issue for women in this election."
"The capitulation was made because of politics," Handel said of Komen, which had never wanted to involve itself in the abortion debate. She said new donations from pro-life supporters of the fight against breast cancer promised to outweigh the potential loss of corporate sponsors.
"Our biggest mistake was thinking Planned Parenthood valued the best interests of the fight against breast cancer," she said.
Handel explained that Planned Parenthood, whose "reason for being" encompasses only "reproductive and sexual health … rebranded itself as a promoter of women’s health."
"Planned Parenthood claims to be about women’s health, yet they had no hesitation in sacrificing Komen, an organization that does stand for women’s health," Handel said.
Handel called herself "naive" for believing that she had worked out an amicable separation from Planned Parenthood. She noted the friendship between Komen’s former president Liz Thompson, and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.
After Komen’s management made the decision, they planned to silence concerns with a simple press release.
"We didn’t want to have a press battle," Handel said. "It wasn’t about abortion."
Management also planned to avoid interviews. "Send it out, say no more," she said.
Then Komen’s vice president of communications, Leslie Aun, spoke to the press.
"She blatantly defied management," Handel said.
Aun has denied the charge, but Handel presented more evidence that Planned Parenthood orchestrated a communications blitz.
"Prior to the first story came blog posts, tweets, clearly an orchestrated campaign," she said. "Dear colleague" letters from congressional offices appeared the day after the announcement. "Congress doesn’t work that fast," she said.
Moveon.org and Change.org issued petitions, asking Komen to restore the grants and to fire Handel. Her Facebook and Twitter accounts were hacked. Protests formed outside Komen’s corporate sponsors.
Planned Parenthood reached out to its allies in the LGBT community, cashing in chits earned during its lobbying campaign "to defeat traditional marriage and voter ID laws."