BOOK REVIEW: ‘Planned Bullyhood’

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By Karen Handel
Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, $24.99, 304 pages

One of the easiest telephone calls I would get as spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was the call about Komen. Easy in the sense that the issues were clear. Susan G. Komen for the Cure gives money to Planned Parenthood. If you don’t want your money to be given to the nation’s largest abortion provider, don’t give it to Komen.

The calls were also frustrating. Nobody doubted the importance of Komen’s mission to save women by ending breast cancer. It seems we all have a stake in this fight. My aunt died of breast cancer. Who wouldn’t love to “Race for the Cure”? But many of us sat on the sidelines, waiting and hoping for Komen to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

In the winter of 2012 it did, for three days. A new book released this month by former Komen Vice President Karen Handel, “Planned Bullyhood: The Truth Behind the Headlines about the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen for the Cure,” gives an insider’s account of how one of the most beloved American charities found itself the target of a vicious, orchestrated attack that threatened to run it out of business. What Ms. Handel describes is an ugly, modern-day shakedown.

When Ms. Handel joined Komen in 2011, a re-examination of the organization’s granting model was already under way. Komen was not immune to the economic downturn, and the board wanted more than “awareness programs” and pass-through referrals from its grantees. It wanted high-quality grants that could provide measurable results.

At the same time, the Planned Parenthood controversy that had simmered for two decades had been brought to a boil. The House of Representatives had voted to stop federal funding of the organization. Lila Rose and her group Live Action had begun releasing undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees attempting to cover up child sexual abuse (and later, sex-selection abortions). States were banning tax dollars to Planned Parenthood. Catholic schools were dropping out of local Komen races, and a number of corporate sponsors had pulled the plug. Planned Parenthood was the subject of a dozen investigations. Komen pink Bibles issued by the Southern Baptists were recalled.

Ms. Handel says the new grant protocol was not developed to deal with Planned Parenthood but was a logical, and welcome, exit strategy. The Planned Parenthood grants were heavy on “awareness” initiatives. They funded breast self-examination education, something Komen no longer recommended. They paid for clinic breast exams (a physical checkup), a service already covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.

Still, the most effective means of detecting breast cancer is mammography, and Planned Parenthood was fond of promoting itself as a provider of mammograms to poor women. In fact, its president, Cecile Richards, had just told a national television audience that if Congress stopped funding her organization, women would lose access to mammograms.

Komen and all of America would soon learn that none of Planned Parenthood’s facilities provided mammograms.

To Ms. Handel and the Komen executives, the question was squarely on the table: Why continue giving money to an organization that alienates a large segment of the public, including potential donors, and that does not provide women with the highest standard of breast care?

Others in the organization saw it differently. Some spoke of the need to defend Planned Parenthood against its political enemies, to stand up for “the right to choose,” to stop the “Crazy Catholics.”

Throughout Ms. Handel’s account is the quiet but persistent voice of the charity’s formidable founder, Nancy Brinker, who had devoted her life to ending breast cancer when her sister, Susan Komen, succumbed to the disease. Ms. Handel recalls Ms. Brinker, a “pro-choice” Republican and former board member of a local Planned Parenthood, saying again and again that this was “not Komen’s issue.” “This is not our fight.” “We are in the middle of a culture war that is not ours.”

Finally Ms. Brinker and Komen CEO Liz Thompson decided Komen should pay out all current grants to Planned Parenthood but should not make new ones. The board agreed.

As the final decision was coming together, Komen was staffing up with consultants to help it through the delicate process. In a dazzling display of naivete, Komen leadership hired consultant Brendan Daly to manage communications. Mr. Daly had been communications director for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, working side-by-side with former Pelosi staffer (and current Planned Parenthood president) Cecile Richards. Even worse, they hired SKDKnickerbocker consultant Hilary Rosen — yes, that Hilary Rosen, the DNC operative and Obama White House strategist. Ms. Rosen would bring into Komen’s circle of trust her colleague Emily Lenzner, who ran the Planned Parenthood account for SKDK.

It is difficult to imagine a better case of the fox guarding the hen house. Or worse timing. The decision, and these inexplicable hires, came at the same time the White House was ramping up its “war on women” rhetoric. How could Komen fail to see that it would be played as a pawn in this political game?

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