Everyday I drive pass a Planned Parenthood. Since it opened last summer, there have always been protesters out in front, either in a giant group or just some ladies holding signs.Sometimes there are people (occasionally small children, too) out front holding up graphic signs of aborted fetuses, and the signs can be pretty offensive If I’m feeling particularly moody, I’ll flick them off as I roll on by.
But today there was something different.
In light of all the shit going down in the Virginia Legislature, there have been more protestors out and about. They were out there when I left this morning at 6:20, and I expected them to be there when I got home this afternoon.
What I didn’t expect for there to be was a pride flag flying right below the American flag. I was already in a spectacular mood because it was such a nice day, but to come home to see a safe place made even safer for me was…just amazing. I hopped on my bike as soon as I got home, rode right pass the women out front, and walked up to the front desk to ask the (super cute and tattooed) receptionist if I could take a few pictures.
WHAT A DAY
WASHINGTON — Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s leading anti-breast-cancer charity, has insisted that its since-reversed decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood arose from a routine change in criteria for grant eligibility that had nothing to do with abortion politics.
But a Komen insider told HuffPost on Sunday that Karen Handel, Komen’s staunchly anti-abortion vice president for public policy, was the main force behind the decision to defund Planned Parenthood and the attempt to make that decision look nonpolitical.
“Karen Handel was the prime instigator of this effort, and she herself personally came up with investigation criteria,” the source, who requested anonymity out of concern that speaking publicly would do irreparable harm to the source’s career, told HuffPost. “She said, ‘If we just say it’s about investigations, we can defund Planned Parenthood and no one can blame us for being political.’”
Emails between Komen leadership on the day the Planned Parenthood decision was announced, which were reviewed by HuffPost under the condition they not be published, confirm the source’s description of Handel’s sole “authority” in crafting and implementing the Planned Parenthood policy.
Handel’s strategy to cut off Planned Parenthood involved drafting new guidelines that would prevent Komen from funding any organization that was under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. Since Planned Parenthood is currently the target of a congressional inquiry prompted by House Republicans into the way it uses government funds, the family planning provider would have been immediately disqualified from receiving new Komen grants.
After the initial uproar when news of the decision broke, the story that Komen told the public was that the cut-off was unrelated to a political agenda against Planned Parenthood.
“While it is regrettable when changes in priorities and policies affect any of our grantees, such as a long-standing partner like Planned Parenthood, we must continue to evolve to best meet the needs of the women we serve and most fully advance our mission,” the charity said in a statement this past Tuesday.
Americans United for Life and other pro-life groups have been pressuring Komen for years to cut ties with Planned Parenthood because some of its clinics offer abortions, even though none of Komen’s money was used toward abortion services. Handel’s internal strategy, the Komen source told HuffPost, was to exaggerate those attacks and use them to convince the leadership that funding Planned Parenthood was a political liability.
“Komen’s been dealing with the Planned Parenthood issue for years, and you know, some right-wing groups would organize a protest or send out a mailing every now and then, but it was on a low simmer,” the source said. “What Karen’s been doing for the past six months is ratcheting up the issue with leadership. Every time someone would even mention a protest, she would magnify it, pump it up, exaggerate it. She’s the one that kept driving this issue.”
Handel and Komen President Elizabeth Thompson didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The source said Handel submitted a final version of the new grant criteria to Komen leadership in November, and the board approved it in December, at which point Komen’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned “on the spot.”
“It was apparent to everyone in the organization that Karen was doing everything in her power to defund Planned Parenthood,” the source said, “and that’s why Mollie Williams quit.”
Williams has previously declined to comment on why she left, but she told National Journal that she respects the work of Planned Parenthood.
But the criteria did gain the support of Komen’s top executives and board. And in an interview with HuffPost, board member John D. Rafaelli, a Democratic lobbyist and a supporter of Planned Parenthood’s mission, took responsibility for the changes. As the only lobbyist on the board, he told HuffPost, he should have anticipated the political fallout.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it through well enough,” Rafaelli said. “We don’t want to be pro-choice or pro-life; we want to be pro-cure. We screwed up, I’m saying it. We failed to keep abortion out of this, and we owe the people in the middle who only care about breast cancer and who have raised money for us an apology.”
The backlash against Komen was intense, including threats of violence, angry letters from members of Congress and public rebukes from political figures such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The charity struggled to deal with the pressure, especially in a face-off against Planned Parenthood, an organization whose fine-tuned political team has experience in these high-pitched, high-stakes debates.
It was speculated that Komen founder Nancy Brinker hired her friend Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush, to help her handle the crisis. But Fleischer told HuffPost that he had no part in guiding Komen’s strategy on this issue except to recommend an outside crisis management firm.
“It’s just sad for everybody concerned,” he said on Friday. “Komen is a great group, but politically speaking, they’re no match for Planned Parenthood.”
The Komen insider agreed with Fleischer’s assessment.
“Komen’s not equipped to spend its days fighting political battles,” the source said. “Abortion is not our issue, and I think [leadership] tried to finesse a way out of it, and this investigation criteria was the solution. And it blew up in their faces. They were just naive in the face of [the] incredibly sophisticated Planned Parenthood operation.”
Stunned by the fallout, Komen leadership decided within three days to reverse the Planned Parenthood decision and apologize. But the Komen insider said Handel was furious about the cave and fought against it up until the point that it was announced Friday morning.
“It became clear Thursday night that something had to give,” the source said. “Ambassador Brinker, Liz Thompson, the board, and leadership were saying, ‘We’re really worried about Komen’s mission if we don’t figure this out.’ But Karen was still arguing against it as of Friday morning — she was horrified that we were caving, she said. She’s politically tone-deaf.”
In light of the political damage and the abrupt reversal of the Planned Parenthood funding decision, pressure has mounted inside Komen for Handel to resign.
“Everybody in the organization wishes she would do the right thing,” the Komen insider said.
So far, Handel hasn’t indicated an intention to step down. Nor does it appear that she’s been formally asked to do so. But as a result of her efforts, Komen has been left reeling and its reputation as a top charity endangered.
“We’re under attack. We’re getting threats of violence,” the source said. “It’s devastating.”
Laura Bassett firstname.lastname@example.org
First Posted: 06/15/11 12:52 PM ET Updated: 06/15/11 02:19 PM ET
Republican state representatives in North Carolina voted to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the state budget Wednesday morning, ensuring that a provision to strip all federal and state money from Planned Parenthood will take effect on July 1. North Carolina is now the third state, after Indiana and Kansas, to defund the family planning provider because it also provides abortions.
Planned Parenthood of North Carolina (PPNC), which has nine clinics across the state, provides affordable birth control, preventative health care and family planning services to over 25,000 men and women. Without the $434,000 a year it usually receives in state and federal funds, Planned Parenthood says it will now have to axe its teen pregnancy prevention and adolescent parenting programs and force its low-income patients to pay out of pocket.
“The biggest impact is gonna be on the men and women we serve,” said Melissa Reed, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Health Systems. “There are 12- to 14-week waits for women to get into the health department for birth control or breast cancer screenings, but we can see patients the very same week. The health department relies on Planned Parenthood to fill that gap, and now we will be prohibited from serving as that essential safety net provider.”
PPNC receives funds through the Title X Family Planning Program and state-funded birth control programs as a way to provide discounted pap tests, cancer screenings and birth control for low-income, uninsured patients. The Hyde Amendment prevents state and federal money from being used to pay for abortions.
Unlike Indiana, which blocked Planned Parenthood’s ability to contract with Medicaid, North Carolina clinics will continue to be able to serve Medicaid recipients. It’s the low-income, uninsured patients who don’t qualify for Medicaid that will now be falling through the cracks, Reed said, since PPNC will no longer be able to offer them the same low-cost services.
Conservative state lawmakers have been flogging Planned Parenthood for its association with abortions this past week during debates over the defunding bill and another bill that would restrict access to abortions. Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Emerald Isle) told her colleagues on the House Floor a tearful story about her nephew and his girlfriend’s experience with Planned Parenthood 14 years ago.
“She went to Planned Parenthood, asked them what her choices were,” she said. “They told her she would have a deformed baby because of her drug use, her only option was abortion.”
“He went with her to what she describes as a very dark house. In that very dark house, a nurse attended to her. My nephew asked the nurse if she could at least see the ultrasound. The nurse said, ‘I can’t do that, I’ll get fired.’”
McElroy later admitted that the incident happened in Georgia, not North Carolina, and that the “dark house” where the abortion occurred was actually not a Planned Parenthood clinic. The family planning provider estimates that abortions account for less than 3 percent of the services it provides.
According to a recent poll, 57 percent of North Carolina voters oppose the measure to defund Planned Parenthood and teen pregnancy prevention programs, and Reed said people have already started sending donations to keep PPNC afloat.
“Beginning at 7:30 a.m. this morning, we had donations coming in,” she told HuffPost. “North Carolinians really support Planned Parenthood and are stepping up to support our efforts.”
Planned Parenthood of Indiana received an unprecedented $116,000 in donations from across the world after it was defunded in May, allowing it to continue serving its Medicaid patients for more than a month after the bill took effect.
Reed said PPNC is now considering all options — including litigation against the state — to hang onto its low-income patients. A similar lawsuit is currently being heard in Indiana.
“They are using the budget to punish Planned Parenthood for other services we provide, such as abortion care, which does not even use any of this money,” Reed said. “They can’t legally do that.”
Like the House, the North Carolina Senate is expected to vote to override the veto. That vote is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Laura Bassett email@example.com
Posted: 05/20/11 06:05 PM ET
Lawmakers in Wisconsin and Tennessee advanced legislation this week to pull state funding from Planned Parenthood because some of its clinics offer abortions.
Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee voted Wednesday to block state family planning grants from any group that separately provides abortions or abortion referrals, even though those funds cannot legally be used to pay for abortions. The restriction would cut nearly a million dollars a year from nine Planned Parenthood clinics across Wisconsin, which serve a total of 12,000 rural and low-income men and women.
The committee also voted to drop men from BadgerCare Plus, Wisconsin’s state family planning program that is covered by Medicaid, and to lower the income eligibility threshold for the program.
“What they’re trying to do makes our family planning program so dramatically different from what it was that the federal government could say, “This isn’t what we agreed on,’ and the program ends,” said a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. BadgerCare currently serves 60,000 patients in Wisconsin, many of whom have very limited access to low-cost preventative care and family planning services.
Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) said he would make further cuts to Planned Parenthood if he could, because he believes the organization promotes abortion, despite statistics that say abortions account for less than 3 percent of its services.
“There’s a very ugly side to this organization, and I regret that they’re going to take such a tiny cut in this budget,” Grothman said.
The Tennessee Senate passed a bill Thursday night, meanwhile, that would pull all Title X family planning funds from “third party providers or private organizations or entities,” which effectively singles out Planned Parenthood. Title X grants support Planned Parenthood’s family planning services for low-income patients, including birth control and STD screenings. No Title X grants pay for abortions.
Planned Parenthood estimates that the defunding in Tennessee would impact three clinics and a total of 9,000 patients. The organization is busy working on a contingency plan that would keep its doors open.
“One thing that’s sure is none of our clinics will close. It’s gonna be difficult, but we’re committed to providing service to the women in need,” said Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee.
Teague said the defunding will likely force Planned Parenthood’s low-income patients to start absorbing more medical costs.
“We’re gonna have to ask them to help pay for some of their care,” he told HuffPost. “It’s a particular challenge now during the bad economy, and Tennessee is a rural and poor state, so it’s gonna put an additional burden on the population least likely to afford it. In a lot of cases, that means they are going to lose access to health care.”
A 2009 report by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and advocacy group, found that a majority of low-income women consider a family planning center like Planned Parenthood their primary health care provider. Seventy-three percent of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in rural or medically under-served areas, according to the organization’s own data.
Indiana and Kansas both voted to cut state funds from Planned Parenthood earlier this month, and similar legislation is being considered in Texas and Oklahoma. Conservative lawmakers say they are concerned about taxpayer money being used to fund abortions, although the Hyde amendment has banned taxpayer-funded abortions for 30 years.
“Lawmakers have become so obsessed with abortion that they can’t overlook that this is bad public health policy and bad policy overall,” Teague said. “Ultimately, the lack of preventative care is just going to end up driving up medical costs for the state.”