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Karen Handel/Photo by John Bazemore/AP

The abortion empire strikes back

Q&A | Karen Handel and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation felt the wrath of an angry Planned Parenthood

Issue: "The battle," March 24, 2012

Last December the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation decided to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood. On Feb. 3, after several days of media-megaphoned screaming by the nation's leading abortion provider, Komen reversed itself. On Feb. 7, Komen senior vice president Karen Handel resigned. Here are edited excerpts of an interview with her before students at Patrick Henry College.

You were the first Republican elected secretary of state in Georgia. Then you finished first in the first round of the GOP primary race for governor in 2010, but lost the run-off by 2,500 votes. One vote per precinct in the state of Georgia. One vote really does count. An issue in the run-off was whether or not I was truly pro-life.

You allowed for a rape and incest exception? It's not that I think killing a baby for any purpose is right, just, or moral, but sometimes you have to invoke the Margaret Thatcher approach to things: relentless incrementalism. Sometimes you can't just get everything at once. There are some really common-sense things that the overwhelming majority of people in this country can get their heads around and be supportive of, like legislation around fetal pain.

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I'm not agreeing with you on the rape and incest exception, but it does seem inaccurate to say you're not pro-life. The irony: not being pro-life enough in the governor's race, now fast-forward to my depiction today as too pro-life.

After the contentious gubernatorial campaign, you moved to an apparently calm job with Komen. You could promote something everyone can support, the battle against breast cancer. Exactly. Calm. Not much controversy. I do my job, keep my head down, and stay out of the press.

Could you explain a bit about Komen: size, how much money went to Planned Parenthood, and why? Komen raises a great deal of funds through Races for the Cure and makes $93 million in grants, with 75 percent staying in the local community. There are 19 Planned Parenthood grants totaling $680,000, mostly for education programs. A really important point often missed in the debate: Planned Parenthood does not give mammograms. Does not. It does mammography referrals, an entirely different thing.

Given the number of dollars involved, was Planned Parenthood not hugely important to Komen, and Komen not hugely important to Planned Parenthood? The $680,000 is less than 1 percent of Komen's grants. For Planned Parenthood, that $680,000 is even a smaller percentage of its $1 billion in revenue. The great outcry that somehow women were going to be left in the dirt? Nothing more than Planned Parenthood PR spin.

Pro-life groups complained about that $680,000 and wanted Komen to stop. At a certain point were you and others at Komen saying that the grants to Planned Parenthood are tangential to Komen's main goal, so who needs the aggravation? That's right. Komen, long before I came, was looking at those grants in great detail: Were they having the kinds of outcome that an organization as well-respected as Komen, and its donors, would expect? At the same time, Komen staff was having to spend an increasing amount of time managing issues that had nothing whatsoever to do with Komen or the fight against breast cancer.

Time to get out? All those things brought us to the place where we looked at how to transition out, in the best interest of the mission to fight breast cancer.

When did Komen tell Planned Parenthood that new grant requests would be unwelcome? The Komen president had a conversation with the Planned Parenthood president sometime around the middle of December and explained all of this-that we weren't making a judgment on whether or not the issues involving Planned Parenthood were real or perceived, we just knew that they didn't have anything to do with breast cancer, and we were looking to have a magnanimous break-up. We reassured Planned Parenthood that Komen would make every effort to have a smooth transition.

When pro-life groups learned that Komen would stop giving to Planned Parenthood, did they shoot off fireworks and unroll victory banners? No. Those of us in the organization who had relationships with conservatives in the pro-life community specifically said, No celebrations, please. We wanted to move forward. In our desire not to give a scalp to either side-although arguably it was my scalp that was given-we probably made a mistake. Maybe we should have just let both sides have the debate.

But you thought there would be peace, peace ... All of us underestimated the visceral, very political response that Planned Parenthood was going to take. In their world, $680,000 was a miniscule part of their $1 billion budget. This was about politics.

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