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Komen backlash: Public turns fury on vice president Karen Handel

February 3, 2012 |  5:00 pm

Karen_Handel_300The harsh social media spotlight cast on Susan G. Komen for the Cure is now shifting to Karen Handel, the organization's senior vice president for public policy and, some suspect, the architect behind the decision that has led to the worst public relations disaster in the organization's history.

Social media activists are calling out Handel by name and demanding that she be fired. "I won't trust anything SGK says until they fire Karen Handel," said one Facebook posting. The drumbeat on Twitter was growing as well, with versions of "Fire Karen Handel" making the rounds.

So who is Karen Handel?

Handel made history in 2006 when she became the first Republican and only the second woman to be elected as secretary of state in Georgia. She resigned that post in 2010 to launch a campaign to become her party's nominee for governor. Despite getting a high-profile endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Handel did not win the bid.

Such a life in the public eye makes for a public record, and critics are now using what they say are past  public statements from Handel to bolster their suspicions that she was the driving force behind Komen's decision to slash funding to Planned Parenthood.

Internet archivists say they have unearthed archival pages of the blog that Handel reportedly wrote -- the blog has since been taken offline -- while she was running for governor. In one posting, she reportedly promises to "be a pro-life governor," adding that "since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."

And then there is this screen shot making the online rounds. It claims to show Karen Handel's Twitter account from earlier in the week, which suggests that she -- or perhaps someone with access to her Twitter account -- re-tweeted a comment slamming Planned Parenthood. That comment is no longer visible in Handel's Twitter feed.

The Komen foundation did not return a phone call or email asking to discuss Handel and what role, if any, she played in the controversial decision or the Tweet. And she has yet to comment publicly about the recent uproar.

Komen has long been under pressure by conservatives to cut ties with Planned Parenthood because it provides a variety of reproductive health care services, including abortions. Critics say Komen engineered the perfect out in 2011 when it revised its internal rules to bar the organization from funding another organization under an investigative cloud. The Atlantic notes that while Komen provides funding to hundreds of organizations, the new rule affected only one: Planned Parenthood.

The move turned out to be a public relations disaster for Komen and created a financial windfall for Planned Parenthood.

This morning, Komen announced that it was retreating from its position. That move triggered a new round of controversy, this time from anti-abortion activists who now accuse Komen of caving in to pro-choice pressure.

Not everyone, however, is convinced that Handel had any extraordinary role in the decision to pull Planned Parenthood's funding.

Komen's founder and chief executive, Nancy Brinker, said in an interview with MSNBC this week that Handel did not play a significant role in the policy change, according to the Associated Press.

And Gen Wilson, of Georgia Right To Life, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that her organization targeted Handel during her run to become Georgia's governor precisely because she failed to do enough to block Planned Parenthood. Handel helped manage federal and state grants to Planned Parenthood while sitting as a Fulton County commissioner, another position she held in Georgia.

"If Ms. Handel has been involved in this decision, we’d love to see some credible documentation of that. Unfortunately we have seen none," Wilson told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, the inquiry that helped trigger the controversy shows no end in sight.

U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida, a Republican and anti-abortion advocate, started his own inquiry last September to determine whether Planned Parenthood uses any taxpayer funding to perform abortions. Planned Parenthood says it does not. Stearns says he needs proof and suggested in a statement that Planned Parenthood only has itself to blame for his inquiry. Such an inquiry is not a formal congressional investigation.

"Repeated cases of Planned Parenthood ignoring state and local reporting requirements, many involving minors, and allegations of financial abuse led to this investigation -- the first ever oversight conducted on this group," according to the statement released by his office. "We are still working with Planned Parenthood on getting the records and documents for the investigation, and I’m interested in holding a hearing depending on what the investigation discovers."

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

File photo: Karen Handel waves to supporters during her unsuccessful big to become the Republican nominee for the governor's office in Georgia in 2010. Credit: John Bazemore/Associated Press

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