This Tuesday, September 11, Karen Handel’s book comes out. In case you’re saying to yourself, “Self, who for the love of Pete is Karen Handel?,” allow me to fill you in. Karen Handel was the senior vice president in charge of public policy for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She was involved in the controversy earlier this year in which Komen announced they would no longer be granting money to Planned Parenthood, and then about three days later said “oops never mind.”
Immediately following this national firestorm of debate and controversy and me yelling at my radio a lot while driving, Handel resigned. On Tuesday, her book will be released. Planned Bullyhood: The Truth Behind the Headlines About the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle With Susan G. Komen for the Cure should prove illuminating, since Handel was intimately involved in the decision-making process and intimately called terrible names on Twitter by rabid pro-choice zealots for weeks afterward. I remember hearing Handel’s name bandied about as the anti-choice ideologue who orchestrated the split between Komen and Planned Parenthood, and upon her resignation, I remember the word “scapegoat” flitting through my head.
Around that time, I followed the news about the controversy pretty closely, and I remember looking Karen Handel’s name up and being surprised she wasn’t blonde. (For some reason, in my mind, Karens are always blonde. I don’t know.) When she ran for governor of Georgia, she was endorsed by Sarah Palin, but not by Georgia Right to Life. That organization found Handel insufficiently pro-life, since she favored a rape/incest exception and refused to condemn in vitro fertilization. In fact, there was some animosity between Handel and pro-life groups… Pretty interesting for a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, fetus-loving lady-hater. In fact, I found she was much better-known for ethics reform and fiscal conservatism than social issues.
And another thing: Nancy Brinker, Komen’s CEO at the time, was well-known for being a formidable, assertive leader – and a pro-choice Republican. It was hard for me to imagine this one highly independent woman – let alone a whole organization of people with varying political beliefs - bowing to the ideological motivations of a single individual who is not identified – by herself or other pro-lifers – as a pro-life crusader.
My first pro-life protest, in 2007, was a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s where I first met the totally awesome activist and writer Destiny Herndon – De La Rosa, and it was my first taste of the intense animosity that can be directed toward pro-life protesters.
I was a fledgling pro-lifer and nervous as all get-out. I’ve never had a problem with confrontation in general, but I was afraid the race participants would misunderstand our motives. I think some of them did. We weren’t there to condemn them for being a part of Susan G. Komen’s fundraising efforts; we were there to make them aware that Komen was granting money to Planned Parenthood, and why that is, to put it mildly, not cool.
At the time, I was newly aware of the abortion-breast cancer link, a link which some call a myth, about which I’d encourage you, dear reader, to do some research and make up your own mind. That issue aside, I still found it extremely disturbing that an organization purportedly committed to serving women with breast cancer through research and treatment would align itself with an entity that has absolutely nothing to do with breast cancer. To this day, Planned Parenthood does not offer mammograms, and even if they refer women for mammograms, is that enough to justify them getting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to offset the cost of abortions, which makes up the bulk of their revenue?
Here’s a crazy idea: why not grant to the mammogram provider directly and avoid the abortion-providing middle man?
Furthermore, if Komen were really about altruistically helping woman, why would they align themselves with such a controversial and political organization?
The purpose of our presence at the race that day was to provide information to the participants. We carried signs that read, “YOUR HEART’S IN THE RIGHT PLACE BUT YOUR MONEY ISN’T.” Most of them proclaimed the website “PINKMONEY.ORG,” which examines the abortion-breast cancer link and the relationship between Komen and Planned Parenthood.
I stood on a corner with several other people holding signs. We didn’t yell or even say anything unless spoken to. I was wearing a very happy and friendly-looking toboggan. (I have a theory that certain hats put people at ease.)
I remember very clearly the first large group of racers who came jogging around that corner and directly at us. I saw them see us, I saw them mentally react, I saw their expressions change. Some ignored us, some looked confused, some vaguely interested. Many were…let’s just say they weren’t happy. We were flipped off, sworn at, and called names. One man looked me in the eye and said, “My mother died of breast cancer. Shame on you.”
I felt for him, but I knew that while he was there for his mother, I was there for the millions of women who have been harmed by Planned Parenthood. I said to him what I said to everyone who spoke to me: “You deserve to know where your money is going.”
One of the protesters – a very seasoned pro-life activist – decided to leave. She told me she believed in our message, but was feeling conflicted about the way we were putting it across. I didn’t blame her, but I decided to stay.
This was my first glimpse of the anger that is often directed at a pro-life presence, and it was surprising and unpleasant. Imagine standing still on a grassy corner while a constant stream of joggers, and later walkers, endlessly pours around the corner, sees you there, and flips out.
We were told to “go the f**k home” and “f**k off” and furthermore to “f**k off and die.” I was told, “I hope you f**king die” by a young woman who spat in my direction. “You deserve to know where your money’s going,” I said to her. She gave me the finger.
I felt pity for some of the people who yelled at us and said vile things, but their rage was misplaced. I felt justified, in fact obligated, to stand there with my sign and inform people that the money they were giving to Susan G. Komen in good faith was being used not only to help women, but to hurt them. It was the truth, and the truth can be an ugly and uncomfortable thing.
When the “defunding” controversy happened earlier this year, I remembered that day standing in the bright Dallas sunlight, watching those racers come pouring around the corner. I knew a tiny fraction of what Komen was feeling: an ugly tide of pressure was washing over them. They were acting in a reasonable and justifiable way by choosing to end the Planned Parenthood grants, but people weren’t seeing the truth. They were hearing the lies that Planned Parenthood is a valuable partner in the fight against breast cancer, that they are the only option for low-income women, that they are synonymous with women’s health.
After a few days of watching the tide pour in, Komen caved, and declared themselves once and for all an organization influenced by politics. What they should have done is stand there, confront the emotion and rhetoric with reason, and refuse to be bullied.
The organization has paid for its indecision: a slew of resignations followed Handel’s, and Brinker recently stepped down as CEO, although she will remain with the organization she founded in a fund-raising and strategery role. (Yes, I said strategery.)
Needless to say, I have a feeling Handel’s book will be an extremely interesting read and a valuable look at a process that heretofore has been mostly hidden from us. Since she resigned from Komen, Handel has decided to tell the truth about Planned Parenthood, and because of that, and her unfortunate experience with the way the nation’s largest abortion provider operates, I think she deserves our attention.