Monday, February 6, 2012

Komen Insider: Republican Activist Karen Handel Drove Decision to Defund Planned Parenthood

For those continuing to follow the discussion of what happened when Planned Parenthood decided to bully the Susan G. Komen foundation when the Komen foundation chose to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and then reversed its decision: an important report last evening from Laura Bassett at Huffington Post.  Bassett reports that an unnamed Komen insider has shared documents with Huffington Post showing that--as many of us were convinced all along--the drive to defund Planned Parenthood came from Karen Handel, the Republican "pro-life" activist Komen has hired as v-p for public policy.

Readers may recall that when an uproar ensued after Komen announced its decision, the Komen CEO Nancy Brinker told the media that the decision was in no way political.  The material shared with HuffPo proves otherwise.  It includes emails Handel sent out which prove that Handel was, all along, the driving force behind the decision to defund Planned Parenthood.  

The anonymous source sharing information with HuffPo also indicates that Handel invented the bogus "investigation criteria" category just for this situation--just to provide a justification for defunding Planned Parenthood in a way that could be pitched to the public as not "political."  The new "investigation criteria" category would prevent Komen from funding any organization under governmental investigation.  

As many commentators have noted, the federal investigation of Planned Parenthood to which the "investigation criteria" refers is in itself a bogus investigation designed by Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida to harass Planned Parenthood solely because the organization has become a lightning rod for the religious and political right in recent years due to the health services (including contraception) it provides to many women who have little access to health care elsewhere.  There is little serious expectation in any quarters that the manufactured Stearns investigation will turn up information that will impede Planned Parenthood's work.

And here's some of what I take away from the news that Karen Handel drove the Komen decision to defund Planned Parenthood and made up the "investigation criteria" as a screen behind which Komen thought it could do its dirty work of depriving poor women of health care while claiming the decision was not political.  In the first place, Komen obviously knew what it was getting--a right-wing Republican activist--when it hired Komen.

Her history, including her direct statements that she opposes Planned Parenthood, was well known when Komen hired her.  It was well known at the time of her hire that Handel had been endorsed by Sarah Palin when she competed in the Republican primary in Georgia in 2010 for the governor's seat.  Handel's willingness to throw the gay community under the bus was also equally well-known.  When it came out during that primary election that she had been a member of the Republican gay organization Log Cabin Republicans, she denied the charge until the media revealed that her name had, in fact, been on Log Cabin's membership rolls.  And then she began to engage in gay bashing to prove her cred as a Republican candidate, making statements that gay people are not fit to be parents.  (Links to information about each of the points I make in this paragraph are at the Wikipedia biography to which the first sentence in the paragraph points.)

So here's another point I take away from this latest revelation in the Komen story: it's rather hard--if not impossible--for those pro-life Catholics (e.g., the bishops and their supporters) who claim they are all about combating abortion and not about bashing gay folks to sustain their claims, when everyone with whom they're in bed in their pro-life cause turns out to be as intent on attacking the gays as on attacking abortion.  The two go hand in hand in the contemporary Republican agenda.  Buy into the "pro-life" bit of the agenda, and you've also bought a big old package full of gay bashing.

And so I have to conclude that the decision of some of my fellow Catholics to hinge their voting decisions in any election cycle on the sole, single criterion of abortion is morally obtuse, when one cannot buy into any anti-abortion platform in the American political system as it's presently configured, without buying into anti-gay platforms, as well.  Without buying into political platforms that work hard to assure that the human worth of gay and lesbian persons, including gay and lesbian young people, is seen as lesser than that of heterosexual people.

Being "pro-life" effectively means, for the huge majority of those in the pro-life movement, also being intent to undermine the worth of the human lives of gay and lesbian human beings.  And as I've noted in several postings recently, this becomes a very serious life issue when gay or gay-tagged young people are killing themselves at alarming rates these days, and many "pro-life" religious leaders--notably the U.S. Catholic bishops--say nothing at all about this issue.

And there's more: as I've also noted, the same people who are working to attack Planned Parenthood and to "defend" life in the womb are also working, as the 2012 elections approach, to assure that minorities and young people have a harder time voting in the elections.  A reader of this blog for whom the abortion issue counts first and foremost in moral-political decision-making has challenged my claim that this is happening, but the evidence for this process of deliberate suppression of the votes of minorities and young people around the nation is overwhelming.  Steve Rosenfeld's article about this topic at Alternet in December is comprehensive, and is only one of many resources to which voters who want their moral vision of the political process to be based on accurate and complete information can turn for understanding.

We have worked very hard in this country, some of us, to overcome historical obstacles to voting for African-American voters, and it's appalling for those of us who remember those obstacles clearly in our own younger days to see them being brought back at this point in history--by political groups that claim they are motivated by "values" and the desire to keep "morality" alive in American culture.  As American political options are currently configured, if you buy into the "pro-life" agenda, it appears you have no option except to buy simultaneously into the anti-gay agenda and the racist agenda.  

And so I'd like to suggest to my fellow Catholics who imagine that you can vote solely on the basis of the abortion issue when you cast your votes: please think very hard about what you're really supporting and whom you're really in bed with when you cast those "pro-life" votes.  If you want to make a really morally sound and morally informed decision as you vote, the onus is on you as an adult Christian exercising informed adult conscience to look at the whole nexus of issues that hang together in the "pro-life" agenda as it's now hobbled together.

It's time for more honesty in these discussions--honesty about who we're really endorsing and what we're really setting into motion as pro-life Catholics when we pretend that we're voting on the basis of the abortion criterion alone and are exonerated from responsibility for all the other things we set into motion when we elect the anointed "pro-life" candidate du jour.  As I've also been saying, it is long since past time for us Catholics to be far more honest about the contraceptive issue than we've been up to now.

Michael Sean Winters has yet another of his little pieces at National Catholic Reporter right now fuming about the Obama administration's decision to uphold the HHS contraceptive coverage guidelines.  What's remarkable about this piece is that it admits that a majority of Catholic women use contraceptives, and then seeks to argue--at the very same time!--that contraception is not the real issue.  Religious freedom is, Michael informs us, the real issue.

So we're being asked to fight for the religious freedom of our bishops to enforce teachings (and to impose them on non-Catholics working in Catholic institutions) that a majority of us don't accept in our own lives.  Religious freedom is the right to pretend?  The right to posture?  To engage in moral hypocrisy?  

The fact that liberal Catholics hotly contesting the Obama administration's HHS decision don't even see the appalling, toxic irony at the heart of their religious freedom arguments is mind-boggling.  And that they don't see how the toxic dishonesty of Catholic pretenses in the area of human sexuality eats away at the integrity of our church and its credibility in the public square: this is equally mind-boggling.

Religious freedom as the right to pretend we are somebody other than who we are: what a strange brand to adopt in the case of an institution that expects people to listen seriously to it when it teaches moral values in the public square.  When effective teaching always demands that we seek to embody the values we're proclaiming to others, before we open our mouths . . . . 

There have to be more effective ways to convey our commitment to the values of life as we engage the public square--more effective, more honest, more inclusive of all Catholics.  (And it certainly doesn't serve our integrity and enhance our credibility to keep spreading the false allegation that the administration just forced Catholics to pay for abortions.)

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