AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder Nancy G. Brinker plans to leave her CEO position as part of a leadership change but will stay on in a management role at the charity, which was embroiled in an abortion-related funding controversy earlier this year.
Komen, in announcing the move on Wednesday, also said that President Liz Thompson would leave the Dallas-based organization in September and board members Brenda Lauderback and Linda Law would step down.
The shakeup comes after the world’s biggest breast cancer charity provoked uproar earlier this year over its decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, a provider of birth control, abortion and other women’s health services.
Komen, which supports Planned Parenthood’s efforts to provide access to breast-cancer screening, reversed that decision within days and said it would restore the funding.
The initial move to cut Planned Parenthood’s funding became public in late January, prompting some Komen supporters to complain the group was bowing to political pressure from anti-abortion groups.
“Our mission is clear and consistent, and will never change, regardless of the controversy earlier this year,” Brinker said. “We are doing everything in our power to ensure that women have access to quality cancer care and the support that they need, as we seek answers through cutting-edge research.
Following the controversy, a few of Komen’s flagship “Race for the Cure” fundraising events failed to meet targets, and several of the group’s leaders stepped down earlier this year.
Brinker, who founded the organization in 1982, two years after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer, will “move to a new management role focusing on revenue creation, strategy and global growth,” the group said in a statement.
The statement said Brinker, whose dying sister had asked her to promise to end breast cancer, would assume that role once a search for a new senior executive was completed. Brinker has been the face of the organization and became CEO in 2009.
“Three years into that role, and 32 years after my promise to my sister to end breast cancer, I want now to focus on Susan G. Komen’s global mission and raising resources to bring our promise to women all around the world,” Brinker said. She will be chairwoman of the Komen Board Executive Committee.
Some of Komen’s members had previously called for Brinker’s resignation. Among the Komen leaders resigning earlier this year was Karen Handel, a senior executive charged with spearheading the decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.
Handel, a Republican who once ran for governor of Georgia on a platform calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, said at the time that she had become too much of a focal point and was stepping aside to allow Komen to refocus on its mission.
Thompson, whose departure was among those announced on Wednesday, joined Komen in 2008 as head of research and scientific programs and has been president since 2010.
“Komen today is on an excellent path to recovery, with the most dynamic scientific and community health programs of any breast cancer organization, a strong affiliate network, and committed leadership in all of these areas,” Thompson said.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America responded to the shakeup by saying it was pleased with its partnership with Komen, and that Brinker, Thompson and the Komen foundation had helped elevate the importance of breast cancer detection and prevention.
“We are proud to continue this work together,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said.
In the past 30 years, Komen has spent more than $740 million on breast cancer research and $1.3 billion on community programs to fund screenings, education and support for breast cancer patients, Komen said.
“It is truly unbelievable that Komen, a group that until this year had been considered America’s sweetheart charity, has suffered such financial and personnel upheaval in the wake of making what ended up being a temporary decision to loose ties with the nation’s largest abortion provider,” Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the conservative Christian Family Research Council, said of Wednesday’s move.
“Sadly, the greatest victims of this Planned Parenthood shakedown are women suffering from breast cancer,” Monahan said.
Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Miami; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker