What Really Happened at the Komen Foundation

The clean sweep at the Komen Foundation is finally complete. A few days ago Komen founder Nancy Brinker finally lost her job as CEO. It took a while but they finally got rid of her, the woman who watched her sister suffer and die from breast cancer, who dedicated her life to eradicating the disease, who created one of the most successful global health charities in the world. They removed her for the crime of trying to defund Planned Parenthood. She’s being replaced by a woman some say had a hand in developing Obamacare and who has never run a non-profit.

She was the last of the triumvirate who had the audacity to try and get Susan G. Komen for the Cure out of the culture wars around abortion.

The first to go was Karen Handel who was head of global marketing for Komen. She received the initial blame from the left. Though she voluntarily resigned, she was the fall guy. Handel subsequently wrote a very readable book about it and is now running for the U.S. Senate from Georgia. Second to go was Liz Thompson, who at the time two years ago was President of Komen.

Since they are all gone completely or from day-to-day operations, it is time to tell some tales from the inside of that failed effort. I know quite a bit that has never been revealed until now. Top Komen people came to me in the summer of 2011 to ask my advice on how to step away from Planned Parenthood funding and how to communicate this, in fact how to orchestrate such a move with the pro-life movement.

They came to me because I know pretty much everyone in the pro-life movement, how many of them think, and how many would react to such a reality, that Komen would withdraw funding from the pro-life bête noir, Planned Parenthood.

For years pro-lifers pounded Komen for its support of Planned Parenthood. It made no sense to pro-lifers that Komen, a breast cancer charity, would fund an organization whose essential work in performing abortions that can increase the risk of this deadly disease. And it was an increasing frustration for the millions of pro-life Americans who “raced for the cure” but could not in good conscience continue. Campaigns against Komen by pro-lifers were running all over the country. When Komen President Liz Thompson first came to my office she said, “fully 50% of my time is spent in dealing with” pro-life boycotts of Komen fundraising.

Thompson was most concerned with how effective the boycotts had been from the Catholic bishops. Though the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Secretariat did not have the authority to tell individual bishops what to do about Komen funding but they did have a point of view, which they shared with anyone who called, and a lot of people and bishops were calling.

Handel and Thompson said repeatedly to me that they wanted out of the culture wars. They said they did not want to enter into the pro-life side but they wanted to become neutral and focus their time on saving women’s lives. I told them the pro-life world would not need Komen to join the pro-life ranks but that becoming neutral would be welcome and that the boycotts would almost certainly end.

At the time, Komen provided 19 grants to various Planned Parenthood branches, which over the years totaled into the millions of dollars. They believed their donations went to cancer screenings. Little did they know that Planned Parenthood had been lying to them and was only doing referrals since they did not do mammograms.

The pro-life complaint was not just about funding the abortion giant either. There were also claims Komen supported and funded embryo destructive research.

The chief concern we discussed in the beginning was how to communicate to the pro-life community that such a new policy had taken effect and then ensuring no pro-life group would take a victory lap. Our concern was not to draw the ire and wrath of the abortion giant. We were aware Planned Parenthood had attempted a national campaign against AT&T when that company defunded Planned Parenthood years before. How to avoid that?

The first thing we did was try to expand the circle of pro-lifers who would help with the tactics. We reached out to the Pro-Life Secretariat of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. They, however, were very suspicious and declined the meeting. In fact, within days of my initial conversation about meeting with Komen, word was circulating in Ohio that the Komen-Planned Parenthood problem was about to be solved, the implication being that the bishops would give their approval to Komen funding even if Komen still supported Planned Parenthood. Clearly, there had been a leak from within Komen. This confirmed the suspicions of the USCCB that Komen was simply using them for cover.

In order to avoid future leaks, Thompson and Handel decided to narrow the group of Komen insiders allowed into their internal conversation.

To get advice on how to communicate the new policy—without victory dances—at the suggestion of the USCCB bioethics expert Richard Doerflinger, we contacted Doug Scott of Life Decisions International, who keeps track of companies that contribute to Planned Parenthood. He runs a famous Planned Parenthood boycott list. Doerflinger also suggested we talk to Greg Schleppenbach of the Nebraska Catholic Conference who keeps a similar list on those who fund embryo-destructive research.

Scott assured us that all he needed to do was take Komen off his banned list when the time was right.  Pro-life groups that followed such things would immediately notice the change. He said his group would initiate no public victory parties though he could not speak for any other group.

Schleppenbach told us the case against Komen for embryo-destructive research was quite weak at best.

We began to make discrete phone calls to groups who were in the lead in going after Komen, chief among them Rachel Bohannon of Right to Life-Texas. Since Komen was headquartered in Texas, Bohannon and her colleagues had taken a long time special interest in Komen and Planned Parenthood. Bohannon was thrilled such a change was coming and assured us that Texas Right to Life would not celebrate but would simply move on. Other groups we contacted agreed that our side would simply move on and not wave the red flag in the face of Planned Parenthood.

Within Komen discussions were ongoing on how to make the final decision and how to implement it. I strongly advised Thompson and Handel that the withdrawal should happen slowly, even over the course of a few years and that eventually the final grant would be withdrawn. I was not then aware of the trickiness of Komen funding decisions. They were not made at headquarters but at the local level. Further muddying the waters was the fact that most Komen affiliates were separately incorporated charities with boards that were independent of Komen. Headquarters issued funding guidelines but not final funding decisions. This proved to be fatal in the coming months.

The issue was embryo destructive research was fairly easy to deal with. Komen did not fund it, period. However, one of their top officials had said they approve of it in a Komen newsletter. A bishop in Ohio had a list of all possibly offending grants which was examined by Professor Robert George of Princeton, who is an expert on bioethics having served on the Presidential Commission on Bioethics for many years, and Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who is a noted bioethics expert himself. They determined that none of the Komen grants shown to them had anything to do with the destruction of embryos.

We decided to hold a private conference at Princeton for bioethics experts and Komen scientists in order to discuss the matter and eventually issue a Komen policy statement. This never came to fruition though a crystal clear policy statement, edited by George and Levin, did appear on the Komen website that fall, though no pro-life groups noticed.

Summer turned to fall turned to winter and the Komen people were eager to get the decision finalized, perhaps too eager. Nancy Brinker ended up announcing to the Komen board that funding criteria had been changed and that “pass through” grants, grants given to one group that passes them along to another to carry out, would no longer be allowed. Since Planned Parenthood did not do mammograms, their grants for breast exams were all passed through to local clinics. Komen also invoked long-standing but little-used guidelines not allowing grants to any group under investigation by any body of government. This was probably the fatal move.  She specifically mentioned Planned Parenthood would no longer be eligible for grants.

Nancy Brinker’s hubris got the better of her. She had been thought for so long to be a secular saint, even and especially among the feminist crowd, that she could schmooze her way through any crisis. She spoke to the head of Planned Parenthood and said they had a “gentle-ladies” agreement not to go after each other; the two groups would simply part as friends.

Things were not helped when Doug Scott announced the new policy well in advance of when we wanted it and therefore was not content to simply take them off the boycott list. Though he did that eventually, he also issued a press release. This caused huge problems for those within Komen, and in the pro-life world, who thought games were being played.

What we did not know at the time was that Planned Parenthood at that moment was planning a massive attack against their long-time friends at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The board meeting and private announcement to Planned Parenthood came in December and all was quiet, or so we thought, for many weeks.

On January 31, 2012, Handel and I were meeting with the Pro-Life Secretariat of the USCCB to map out ideas on how to tell the rest of the pro-life world that funding had been pulled.  Deirdre McQuaid, head of communications for the Secretariat, said she had fielded a phone call from an Associated Press reporter about Komen withdrawing Planned Parenthood funding. Handel said she had, too. An immediate pall settled over the meeting. This could mean only one thing; Planned Parenthood had leaked the story and something was about to happen.

What happened over the next 72 hours is well known. The AP story could not have been worse for Komen. The Komen spokesman had been directed to talk specifically and only about “pass through grants.” Instead she talked about the investigations against Planned Parenthood. This placed the issue directly into the camp of House Republicans. Even though many investigations were going on, including for criminal wrongdoing at the local and state level, the spokesman made it about nasty “anti-choice” Republicans going after women’s health in the House of Representatives. This became the opening salvo in the “war against women” narrative. So egregious was this mistake by Komen spokesman Leslie Aun that in her book Handel suggests Aun may have been working for Planned Parenthood all along.

Within hours, letters from House Democrats were released. Female Congressmen were all over television attacking Komen as doing the bidding of anti-woman and  “anti-choice” Republican bullies. Big Komen donors announced they were pulling out. Big Komen donors, like Lance Armstrong, announced massive grants to Planned Parenthood. Komen executives announced their resignations. Corporations announced they were stepping back. Large Komen affiliates announced they were considering leaving Komen and setting up independently. Recall they were set up as independent charities and could do exactly that.

We were supposed to believe all of this happened over night after the AP story appeared on Wednesday, February 1. In fact, the take-down of Komen was weeks in the making.

A narrative developed over those few days that Planned Parenthood beat Komen through a masterful use of the new media. It is true Planned Parenthood trolls controlled the comment boxes of Komen’s Facebook page. But reports that Planned Parenthood was winning the email battle were simply false. This may have been true for the first 24 hours but then the pro-life world became energized. By Thursday morning, mostly through the use of my organizations email list of 390,000 and the lists of other pro-life groups, more than 50,000 emails flooded their offices in favor of Komen. We were beating Planned Parenthood 20-1 in emails. This was not reported anywhere and certainly not by Komen which suffered from a lack of emergency communications personnel and internal Komen personnel who favored Planned Parenthood. In the end this was not a new media takedown but an old media assault with the complicit support of old media dinosaurs like Andrea Mitchell and Sally Quinn, and new TV wolves like Rachel Maddow.

Over those few days the handful of Komen insiders were hunkered down in a glass-walled room at Komen’s DC headquarters. Someone present in the glass room told me he had many times participated in real national security crises in the White House, but that he had never experienced anything like the unrelenting attack on the people in that little room over those few days. Each minute brought new aspects to the crisis, new attacks. It was simply nonstop.

At one point I organized an effort by pro-lifer leaders to get Nancy Brinker to keep her resolve.  On Friday morning, dozens of bouquets of flowers arrived one by one into that glassed-in room, including one massive bouquet of four-dozen long-stemmed red roses. Each carried notes of encouragement and prayers. Brinker read each of them one-by-one. What we did not know at the time was that Brinker and her colleagues had already decided to reverse themselves and resume funding to Planned Parenthood.

Karen Handel believes Komen could have survived if they had just hung on for more than those three days in February 2012. Maybe so. But Komen ended up caving to Planned Parenthood. Abortion advocates still despise Komen. Pro-lifers, quite properly are back to boycotting Komen. Komen has lost personnel, lost funding, and they just cancelled one of their signature annual fundraising race/walk in Washington DC.

What this whole mess shows abundantly is that the pro-choice wing of the Democratic Party cares more about abortion than saving women’s lives. The Komen grants of a few million dollars were a tiny drop in Planned Parenthood’s billion dollar bucket and the amount was immediately replaced by other donors. What this whole thing shows is what most of us have believed all along. In some profoundly strange way, to some abortion is a sacrament and all heretics to that orthodoxy are to be burned at the stake. Abortion über alles.

Austin Ruse


Austin Ruse is president of C-FAM (Center for Family & Human Rights), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute. He is the author of Fake Science: Exposing the Left’s Skewed Statistics, Fuzzy Facts, and Dodgy Data published by Regnery. He is also the author of the new book Little Suffering Souls: Children Whose Short Lives Point Us to Christ published by Tan Books. The views expressed here are solely his own.

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  • Kathy

    Well, Nancy Pelosi just referred to late-term abortions as “sacred ground.” I agree with your reference. To these women abortion is akin to a sacrament.

    • Alecto

      Kathy, it ain’t just the women! Soros funds more pro-abort activities than these women could ever dream of doing.

      • msmischief

        Playboy has long been a funder.

  • Alecto

    “At the time, Komen provided 19 grants to various Planned Parenthood branches, which over the years totaled into the millions of dollars. They believed their donations went to cancer screenings. Little did they know that Planned Parenthood had been lying to them and was only doing referrals since they did not do mammograms.”

    That is troubling. If the grant money was dedicated to a specific purpose which PP diverted, it constitutes fraud. That Komen states it didn’t “know” various PP branches didn’t do mammograms doesn’t cut it. It’s called “due diligence”? Sorry, but “belief” only flies at church! I have to ask, what facts would lead these Komen representatives to “believe” that? Is Komen suggesting it doled out funding in the form of grants to organizations it did not vet? It did not visit? Its people didn’t verify anyone was benefitting from these grants? It’s preposterous. Either these women knew and didn’t care, knew and were embarrassed, or they didn’t know and they’re blockheads.

    It’s tragic how these scandals at non-profits are piling up. It undermines charitable giving because we don’t know whether we can trust our donations are being used for the intended purpose we’re told they are.

    • lifeknight

      The article is an interesting inside look at the machinations of the Devil in the non-profit world. Think of the money unknowing Catholics contribute to the Campaign for Human Development. What a scam promoted by our Church!

      A few years back, our tiny pro life charity received a check for 15K from Komen. (Our entire budget is 75K.) We had hired a secular grant writer and we were happy to receive money for the effort. Before the check was deposited I received an email about the Komen connection to PP. After a very small amount of research, it became evident that Komen was affiliated with PP through this pass through grant process…..especially in Texas. Our check actually was for a mammogram program that we instituted locally. However after our board discussed where the money came from we decided to fire the grant writer and return the largest single donation we’ve ever received. The good news is that we now know exactly where our support comes from: grassroots pro-lifers.

      WE must remain pure to the cause and not take one dime of the PP blood money. Anyone who advocates or negotiates even ONE baby’s life is not worth the association OR the money!

      • Alecto

        I confess I never suspected and never would have known but for the brouhaha. In some ways, that controversy alerted many to the truth and ended up accomplishing some good. No more “pink” for us.

        What’s the name of your group?

        • lifeknight

          La Clinica Guadalupana, Inc. It is a medical clinic in Clearwater FL

      • Buster

        Your organization seems to be doing a blessed good job. I’ll be praying for you and your apostolate.

        I want to challenge you on something though, look into your rejection of Komen money. There is no moral imperative to reject Komen money. You can claim you are pure to the cause because you didn’t take some donation. However, Mother Theresa took money from gangsters. The Church has taken money from gangsters, bankers, prostitutes, corrupt politicians, &c. The world tries to control us by giving us money, that doesn’t mean we have to let them control us.

        How many businesses take money from people of ill repute, I run my own apostolate and I’m sure there are people who support me who profit off ill gains. That does not affect me or my apostolate.

        If I gained those funds through ill gotten means, then sure.

        • lifeknight

          Hello. The board decided by a vote to return the money. There were a couple who had your perspective and argued the same. I personally was opposed to having our organization listed with that of PP. Anyone who gives grants wants to publicize the recipients. It is not worth the money to be listed with those types. My opinion…. God bless.

    • kimmilynn

      He also conveniently leaves out the fact that the PP locations that only provide mammography referrals (which is required to have a mammogram, annual or otherwise) that they also provide funding to pay for the mammogram as well.

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  • Cincinnatus1775

    The moral of the story is don’t underestimate an adversary, don’t treat them gently, and when you decide on a course of action execute it quicky and with all the force you can bring to bear. To do otherwise is to hand victory to your opponent. I don’t mean to suggest that you go about always spoiling for a fight, but when one is on the horizon (and the fight with PP could and should have been forseen), or has been joined, then to take half measures or go on defense is suicide.

    • lIBERTAS

      Amen brother.

    • Guy Est

      As Napoleon said, when you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.

    • mrteachersir

      That is what I got out of it as well: Komen’s reps were focused on the pro-life side of things, not on how their decision would predictably rile up the pro-death side. Lets be clear: while the pro-life groups were understandably distant and wary, the pro-choice groups have a tendency to be very tenacious, deceitful, underhanded, etc in getting their way. That should have been foreseen.

    • ph7

      No, the lesson is to be honest, not duplicitous, in your intentions. Komen set on a deliberate path to defund Planned Parenthood, and concocted a story to appear that PP was just an unintentional casualty of a change in grant criteria. Mr. Ruse was complicit in this flawed strategy, yet has the audacity to blame others for the debacle.

    • flakingnapstich

      Planned Parenthood provides breast cancer screening and awareness training to its clients. THAT is why Komen has supported them in the past. For unensured and underensured women, Planned Parenthood is often their only real resource for gynecological and reproductive health care.

      If you’re going to attack Planned Parenthood because they offer abortions along with their other health services, then you might as well attack hospitals in general.

  • Tony

    A mingling of stupidity and treachery. Anybody who has paid even a little attention to Planned Predators over the years knows that they do not compromise, that they will lie shamelessly, fabricating statistics and slandering their opponents, to get their way. Witness the egregious lie, that they are not principally in the abortion business, but that 97 percent of their activity involves other services …

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  • musicacre

    Makes you realize that we don’t think we are in an occupied country until we test the borders. Then all hell breaks loose to remind us who is in control. Abortion is the place (altar) where those who want to stay successful materially, must present their kernel of incense.

    • CT

      Or their firstborn…

  • sbuffalonative

    Classic ‘foot in the door’, ‘camels nose under the tent’.
    The enemy claims you don’t care about them or they say you’re an intolerant ‘hate group’. They then demand you negotiate on their terms. Then they seize control.
    We just saw the same thing with the Boy Scouts of America. First they ask for ‘inclusion’ and understanding, then they take control.
    Give them an inch and they’ll take control.

  • FrankW

    It’s a shame Komen felt like they needed to partner up with PP in the first place. But the fallacy that Brinker was attempting to “defund Planned Parenthood” was a ridiculous assertion made for the purpose of demonizing Brinker. As if PP couldn’t withstand the loss of less than one million dollars despite the endless stream of millions of dollars they get in taxpayer funds every year.

    Now, all the pro-lifers who used to contribute to Komen are boycotting them, PP gets to keep their precious money, and the Komen foundation comes off as the loser in this.

  • AcceptingReality

    Of course to the practitioners of the secularist religion, abortion is the main sacrament. The reasons are wide and varied. They flow from the relativist world view steeped in narcissism. Komen’s mistake was twofold….getting in bed with PP in the first place and the “cave” in the second place. No good can come from holding hands with the devil.

    • Proteios

      The contraception, abortion “sacrament” emanates from the dogma that overpopulation is responsible for so many ills, that we mut permit selective killing. Because the faulty logic of this extends to pollution, poverty and other areas, the precepts are to prevent new people because that will mean less pollution ( forget its about 10% of the world producing 95% of the pollution…it’s lifestyle not numbers) and less poverty (kill them before they become poor). The atheists have created a cult they created in their own image and controlling life is dear to them.

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  • James Patton

    “Nancy Brinker’s hubris got the better of her.” What a ruse, Mr. Ruse!

  • ponerology

    “Little did they know that Planned Parenthood had been lying to them and was only doing referrals since they did not do mammograms.” —REALLY? Come, come now. Who is kidding whom?? And even if we are to believe the top people at Komen didn’t know about this teeney tiny mistake; as soon as they knew, if they really cared about women, they would’ve ceased the funding to PP immediately and told PP why the funding was being cut off. Please, oh please, let us stop with the “I’m so shocked, shocked I say” baloney. What a bunch of hypocrites. I don’t believe for one, single, solitary, NY minute that Komen was giving millions of dollars per year to PP and DIDN’T KNOW ON WHAT the money was or wasn’t being use. Sure, sure I believe that. And I also believe that PIGS FLY. Stop treating people like a bunch of fools.
    Try reading this instead:

  • ponerology

    Oh..and pssssst. IF ANYONE thinks (or wants to be-lie-ve or live in hope & change) that there is ANY cure for ANY cancer on the horizon which will be given to the little ol’ public down at the bottom of the pyramid, try thinking for yourself for just a few moments now….After billions of dollars down the black hole known as ‘charities’ have the stupid cattle been given any cures whatsoever for anything from the medical-pharmaceutical-military-industrial complex? For the hard of thinking, re-read the prior sentence and think hard.

  • ponerology

    Mr. Ruse’s allusion to the Holy Inquisition at the end of this piece is telling; as is the C-Fam website….for whom, I wonder, does Mr. Ruse really work?

    • Austin Ruse


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  • Paul Rimmer

    I am unconvinced about whether this story is true. Has Nancy Brinker made any statement corroborating the claims here? I will suspend my belief until such a time as Brinker, or at least someone credible from within Komen, speaks out.

  • jacksmithe

    Not surprising at all…since we are rather silly people…we seem to go with the flow until a real crisis happens in our lives. Planned Parenthood and Obama Care are actually a death sentence for people who put their faith in the wrong place. Sad but true…

  • Jcar

    The act of abortion is like a mass worshiping the devil and its final act is the slaying of the unborn child. Think about it.

  • prolifebuttons.com

    Komen would have GROWN if they had cut ties to PP

  • tom

    Gay rights, abortion and PC thinking are the new totalitarian “sacraments”. Don’t the concentration camps usually follow?

  • Y.

    I have 2 theories on this. The first is that Susan G Komen funds Planned Parenthood to benefit their cause. PP offers abortions and birth control, two things that are linked to cancer. If they give money to PP and they offer more services, more women get cancer and SGK gets more money to stay in business. Or a more likely scenerio, SGK isn’t really fighting against cancer, it’s just a feeder to PP in disguise. More people are likely to donate their funds to fight cancer than they are to fund abortions.

  • Palladio

    Totally awesome–I mean awesome–article, masterfully written. THANK YOU!

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  • Dave

    Wow! You Catholics are in your own little world. Someone throws out a biased inaccurate article and you guys lap it up like dogs. No wonder your congregations are shrinking.


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  • kimmilynn

    You lost all credibility when you stated Planned Parenthood’s main purpose is to fund and perform abortions. “In 2011, we provided nearly 11 million medical services for nearly three million people, and helped to prevent approximately 486,000 unintended pregnancies. Seventy-eight percent of our clients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.” That makes abortions 4% of the total services they provide.

    • I give God thanks that I wasn’t one of the 4%.

  • Manda

    They should have held out and not gave them the money back unless it went to mammograms like it was supposed to be for… if you want an abortion you should have to pay for it yourself or give it up for adoption their are plenty of good people that would love to have a child that cant that could raise a child the right way.

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  • flakingnapstich

    I find it fascinating that Planned Parenthood, which provides a host of medical services, is still seen only as an abortion clinic. Planned Parenthood provides breast cancer screening and awareness training to its clients. The connection between Komen and Planned Parenthood is perfectly rational if one is aware of the scope of the health services Planned Parenthood actually offers.