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Planned Bullyhood: The Truth Behind the Headlines about the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen for the Cure Hardcover – September 11, 2012
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About the Author
Karen Handel built her career on sound fiscal and organizational management in both the public and private sector. With tremendous perseverance and determination, she has had a successful political and business career. Karen has held senior management positions with several major companies and served as president of one of Georgia’s largest chambers of commerce. Most recently, Karen served as Senior Vice President of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, overseeing its federal and state policy efforts. She has served as Georgia’s first elected Republican Secretary of State, as well as Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Sonny Perdue. Karen and her husband Steve have been married for twenty years and reside in Georgia.
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The author also glosses over much in her attempt to shine a light on her accomplishments. She claims in passing that she was accused of being racist without any context, but goes on to describe a few pages later how she forced a black woman sheriff out of office. She tells how she balanced a budget with a $100 million deficit without any details, which made me wonder which social safety net programs she probably axed to do it.
Some anecdotes and protestations of indignation I found very amusing. She was quite put out, for example, that Planned Parenthood's “Women Are Watching” website had the temerity to use the color pink, as she felt that color was owned by Susan G Komen. (Page 118) I am twice as old as the Susan G Komen organization, and I know for a fact that products aimed at women have always used the color pink. I know that Susan G Komen aggressively litigates against any other organization who uses “racing for” something to raise funds but having exclusive use of the color pink is beyond the pale.
It is painfully obvious that this book is the author's spin on events, and likely bears little if any resemblance to the truth. She frequently uses the passive voice to indicate that things happened, without any specifics or attributing any agency. Based on what little I do know about earlier events she described, I can tell she's leaving things out. So when she gets to the Susan G Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle, I spent most of my time wondering what she's leaving out and how she's spinning the tale to suit her own needs. That's the trouble with telling half-truths and using misinformation early on: by the time she gets to the meat of the book, her credibility is shot.
In the end, if readers don't get bogged down in the fascinating Machiavellian narrative, they will be able to glean one important thing. Early on, and even throughout the book, the author states that Komen was feeling pressure for making grants to Planned Parenthood and was being threatened with loss of participation and donations if the relationship continued. That is stated numerous times. And yet, over and over again, the author insists that the decision to defund Planned Parenthood had nothing to do with pressure from anti-abortion advocates. I have to wonder if she is even reading what she is writing. Despite her obvious narrative spin, it is clear that if Komen had not been pressured by anti-abortion forces, the relationship with Planned Parenthood would have continued as it had for 20 years.
I would be very interested to read a similar book by Mollie Williams, the public health professional who served as a senior member of Susan G Komen who resigned in protest over Komen's decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. I'm pretty sure it would provide a good counterpoint to this book. Alas, Mollie Williams has moved on and declined to discuss anything that would cast aspersions on the Komen organization.
In the end, I found the book to be a fascinating read, both for what it revealed about the confused inner workings of the Komen organization, as well as the author's attempt to spin the story to be a hit job by Planned Parenthood when it was actually a self immolation by Komen. The author comes off as a self-righteous political naif who maligns friend and foe alike in a weak attempt at self-defense. She failed, but the resulting tale is mesmerizing.
Karen Handel is the one blamed for leading Komen to drop Planned Parenthood (PP). The thing is, even if it was Handel's idea (she insists it wasn't), she couldn't have done it by herself. She is left in the position of an outside lover whom a reconciling couple has agreed bears all the blame for the infidelity. That saves face and makes it easier to reconcile, but it isn't true. Say what you will, it remains that the infidel agreed to the affair and is the real betrayer. Set up as the scapegoat, Handel is understandably bitter.
Komen, according to Handel, couldn't make up its corporate mind. They wanted to dump Planned Parenthood for a number of reasons including dissatisfaction with their work and also because they were under enormous pressure from the prolife/antiabortion forces. This is a point at which I have problems with Handel. If PP was a bully, so was the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, et al. They were the other pincher putting pressure on Komen and Handel. Handel goes into the most detail about the Catholic church's backlash, beginning on p.83. Komen has worked with numerous Catholic organizations in the past, both in giving them grants and getting their help raising money. Then the Church, and like-minded organizations, cut all ties unless Komen cut ties with PP. Handel doesn't fault them for pressuring and hurting Komen, and once the organization was presented with the situation, she was in favor of bowing to the Catholic Church's demands.
Handel is very inconsistent in what she says about these issues. The problem seems to have been that Komen didn't want to admit to the latter reason knowing that they would offend some of their friends. They were also ambivalent about PP and their past relationship. At this point, I had a lot of sympathy for Handel, she simply could get not direction from, or please, people who can't make up their mind, and she probably would have done well to walk away at this point. So Komen tried to explain its actions via their new grant system and a reluctance to deal with organizations under investigation by someone or another. Apparently they hoped that they could tell the anti-abortion/pro-life forces that they were dropping PP over abortion, but keep this news from PP; a futile hope. Then they couldn't keep their story straight, backtracked and contradicted themselves. If it had truly been a matter of grants, then Komen should just have announced the new standards to all potential grantees and let the chips fall where they may. Even if PP couldn't connect the dots regarding the backlash, the fact that Komen was hiring publicists and making a PP a special case would have told them what was up. Handel is outraged that PP and its allies refused to accept this clumsy spin, when they knew that there was more to this decision.
Handel claims that Komen was trying to be neutral in the abortion struggle, but I don't see how withdrawing grants from PP because they also perform abortions is being neutral on the subject of induced abortions. After all, PP wasn't being given grants to perform abortions, and if Komen had any sense they made it clear in the grants that the money was to be used strictly for breast cancer-related projects. They should do that with all their grantees whether they do anything controversial or not. Neutrality would either be to avoid anyone who has a position on the subject or deal with anyone regardless of their opinion. I'm sure that Komen preferred the latter, but the prolife/antiabortion forces were pressuring them to choose sides. Handel argues that this was not a political decision but a financial one, but it was still forcing Komen to take a side in the culture wars. I suspect that if PP had accepted Komen's decision gracefully, they could have expected that every organization that they dealt with would be pressured just as Komen was.
So Handel's complaints about PP are a little hollow and a lot inconsistent. She sometimes goes into a partisan histrionic mode. She complains about PP's slick political/economic arrangements, but there are a lot of organizations that I find a lot scarier who do the same, liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican. These things have generated a lot of outrage over the years, but the politician don't care to put a stop to it.
She goes a bit off the deep end and almost talks as if PP and the left have sinister occult powers and can summon demons, when the truth is that they have a constituency of American citizens who don't even have horns and tails. Just like the right, about whom my liberal friends make similar claims. Life is complicated; full of hard decisions and compromise, and honorable people can disagree. And everyone who agrees with you isn't always honorable. Throughout the body of the book, I thought that Handel had had enough thrown at her that she would recognize this simple point, but in the end she goes back to blind partisan mode. I can understand why Handel is bitter about PP, but having read about the pressure Komen was under from both sides I take a different view.
Author: Column of Pink
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