What’s Women’s Health, Anyway?
Looking behind the Planned Parenthood curtain

Karen Handel


Last year’s attack on the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast-cancer charity, for daring to make better use of its funds and cut ties with Planned Parenthood (Komen backtracked after a campaign by Planned Parenthood and the media) is one worth reviewing now that the heat of the presidential campaign is past. What do we mean when we talk about “women’s health”? And why are we satisfied with Planned Parenthood’s defining it and our public policy? (Planned Parenthood, for instance, was in the room at the beginning and the end of the creation of the Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to cover insurance for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.) Karen Handel, who found herself at the center of the Komen controversy, discusses her new book on the subject, Planned Bullyhood, with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: In recounting what happened regarding Komen and Planned Parenthood, you write: “Planned Parenthood was women, according to those on the left.” Is that true?

KAREN HANDEL: Planned Parenthood continues to con Americans into believing its focus is women’s health generally when its real focus is abortion, money, and politics. We’ve somehow allowed Planned Parenthood and the media to portray women’s health narrowly as nothing more than reproductive health — abortion and contraception. Most women define our health in far broader terms. Planned Parenthood and its allies have successfully framed the debate over its funding, at least for now, as being about reproductive rights rather than the real issue: whether anyone has the right to end a life.


LOPEZ: Why do you say that Planned Parenthood is really about abortion and politics?

HANDEL: Clearly, abortions are Planned Parenthood’s moneymaker. This is evident in last year’s mandate that every chapter must have at least one clinic that does abortions. According to its recently released 2011–2012 annual report, Planned Parenthood performed a record 333,964 abortions. Yet, the total number of services provided in 2011 decreased more than 3 percent. Since 2009, contraceptive services are down 12 percent, and cancer prevention, which includes Pap tests and clinical breast exams, has decreased 29 percent.

PP showed its political clout in this past election cycle, investing more than $15 million to elect pro-abortion candidates, including President Obama. It’s a matter of survival for them. Government funding — $542 million in 2011 — makes up 45 percent of its total annual revenues. And these government funds allow PP to fund its political arm with cash gifts and in-kind services exceeding $13 million. Clearly, without abortion revenues and government funding, PP would be devastated financially.

LOPEZ: But what about those who argue that, without Planned Parenthood, poor and uninsured women will lose access to vital life-saving health care?

HANDEL: That’s more smoke and mirrors. Our country has a network of over 8,000 community health centers (CHCs), also government funded, that serve as the real primary health-care providers for women and families in need. CHCs provide comprehensive primary health care to more than 20 million patients each year, offering far greater access and more comprehensive care than any of the 800 PP clinics. In my home state, Georgia, we have 151 CHCs to five PP clinics. Yet, despite the importance of CHCs, the Obama administration was willing to shut down the government in 2011 to protect funding for PP, while the CHC budgets were cut.

LOPEZ: What happened with Planned Parenthood and Komen, and what, if anything, did you have to do with it?

HANDEL: I joined Komen as its senior vice president of public policy in the spring of 2011 and, within weeks, was tasked with identifying options to end a longtime partnership with PP. Why? The Planned Parenthood grants funded poor-quality programs that were not making a difference in the fight against breast cancer and were failing to fund programs that would have had more impact, such as mammograms. The grant amount was just $700,000 — less than 1 percent of Komen’s nearly $100 million community grant program, and an even less significant amount for Planned Parenthood, given its $1 billion annual budget. A smooth transition would have had no impact whatsoever on the women Komen served. Additionally, with Planned Parenthood embroiled in numerous controversies — from allegations of sex trafficking and Medicaid fraud — Komen saw little upside in being tainted by another organization’s problems, especially for the sake of just $700,000 in grants. Komen’s decision to change its granting strategy was fully vetted at every appropriate level within the organization and presented to the board, which agreed with the decision.

Because ties ran deep between the two organizations, Komen reached out to PP’s president in early December. Komen did not want to create a media firestorm and Planned Parenthood didn’t want one either — at least, that’s what they said. In late January 2012, Planned Parenthood went to the media with no warning to Komen and unleashed an unprecedented, premeditated attack that brought Komen to its knees. After a 72-hour onslaught that included boycotts of Komen and its corporate sponsors, a social-media firestorm, and even bomb and death threats, Komen capitulated and reversed course.

LOPEZ: It’s another year, another Congress. Mike Pence has in the past offered a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. He was elected governor of Indiana, so Diane Black, a nurse from Tennessee, has filed it instead in the 113th Congress. Is this a worthwhile exercise? Is it remotely close to sufficient?