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?

HANDEL: Representative Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) has filed a similar bill as well. The legislation, if it passes in the House, would almost certainly stall in the Senate. It’s important to deal in facts rather than rhetoric. That’s where a congressional review makes sense. If Congress can convene a panel to debate the merits of “free” contraception, why not one about an entity that receives nearly $1.5 million a day in government funding? Planned Parenthood says there is no pattern of misuse of funds or other illegal activities, a statement that rings hollow in the face of a video showing Planned Parenthood’s possible involvement in sex trafficking and sex-selective abortions, the death of a young woman following an abortion in a Chicago clinic, and the charter of a Planned Parenthood chapter being revoked for Medicaid overbilling. But, hey, if Planned Parenthood is telling the truth, and there are no issues, and government funding in no way subsidizes its political activities or abortions, why not let the light shine in? Prove us wrong.
LOPEZ: Is there a danger that pro-lifers look like we are bullying Planned Parenthood when we seem to talk so much about it?

HANDEL: Someone has to talk about it because mainstream media cover virtually nothing negative involving Planned Parenthood. Even worse, as was the case with the Komen situation, the bias is sometimes so blatant that the mainstream press might as well be reading Planned Parenthood’s talking points. Abortion-rights proponents have been successful in defining the issues as women’s health and free contraception. The real issue is whether or not any individual has the “right” to end the life of a life. If the pro-life community could refocus the debate on this and discuss it in the right tone, we would make immeasurable progress. The Left and the media know this — that’s why they continue to push the health con. And PP has figured out that “choice” is a losing message.
LOPEZ: What can we do, practically speaking, to improve women’s health in a way that makes abortion unthinkable? Is that what the pro-life goal should be?

HANDEL: A culture in which abortion is unthinkable is the overall goal. Some argue cultural shifts can only be achieved through rules and regulations. Yes, these help, but we need to inspire people to choose life. Fostering a truly pro-life culture isn’t going to happen overnight. Margaret Thatcher used to refer to “relentless incrementalism.” I think that’s where we are. With the reelection of President Obama, a clear setback to the pro-life effort, this needs to be a time of evaluation — thinking through where we go from here and how. Not unlike what the Republican party overall has to do.
LOPEZ: How do we possibly communicate that in a culture where Komen got slapped down?

HANDEL: We communicate by being honest and genuine, reaching out to connect with Americans — not judging those with whom we disagree. We have to create the opportunity for people to change their minds about abortion; an opportunity for people to embrace life. And we need to talk about the issue differently, more compassionately, and be sure we put the right people forward to do the talking. Let me give you an example. Recently I met a young man in his late 20s or early 30s who told me he had been ardently pro-choice. A few months before, he had changed his mind. I asked him why. He said because he heard the heartbeat of his first baby and knew he had been wrong. That’s powerful. That’s our message. That’s our messenger.

We also have to stop the infighting over who is pro-life enough. It seems unproductive to me to alienate those with whom we agree on 99 percent of the pro-life issues. By ridiculing those who disagree and berating even our own, we allow others to portray us as radical, ruthless, and uncaring. That’s not the way to persuade hearts and minds. That’s not who we are. We carry a most inspiring and hopeful message — one of life — and we need to act like it. The pro-abortion side counts on us to be so focused on fighting each other and alienating potential allies that we’re too weak in messages and numbers to fight them.
LOPEZ: What is on your mind the most as we mark the 40th anniversary of Roe this month?

HANDEL: A prayer for the millions of babies aborted in the past 40 years and for their mothers, many of whom in their quiet moment of remembrance weep for their loss. And, as disappointing as it was to see our country reelect the most pro-abortion president ever, we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us. Setbacks and defeats have a way of yielding new strength, new leaders, and bolder, smarter action.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

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