News Race

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana Director Resigns Amid Criticism

Teddy Wilson

Following criticism from reproductive justice activists that she was an “example of the schism in work around reproductive rights," Melissa Flournoy resigned from her position as director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana on Friday.

Melissa Flournoy has resigned from her position as director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana, following criticism from reproductive justice activists that she was an “example of the schism in work around reproductive rights.”

Flournoy had been with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana for a year. During that time, she was involved in the push against anti-choice legislation by state lawmakers and the organization’s planned expansion of reproductive health-care services to New Orleans residents. In a post on her Facebook page, Flournoy thanked her friends at Planned Parenthood before announcing her resignation on Friday, August 15.

The resignation comes after remarks Flourney made following an August 13 screening of We Always Resist: Trust Black Women, during a panel discussion organized by Deon Haywood of Women With a Vision and Paris Hatcher of SPARK and Race Forward.

Kris Ford, a member of the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, described Flourney’s actions as “rudely derail[ing] the entire conversation.” Ford says Flourney asked Haywood what she could “do about Katrina”—a reference to State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), the main sponsor of HB 388, which will likely close at least three of the state’s five abortion clinics. Flourney allegedly said that she wanted to “put [Haywood] into a ring and let you kick [Katrina’s] ass.” Ford noted in her open letter to Flourney, “How is this helpful? Deon had told us about the police reports she sees where police officers describe black women as primarily ‘big,’ ‘black,’ and ‘angry.’ You turned around and did the same thing.”

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What’s more, “[y]ou asked question after question, made statement after statement, and barely paused for Deon or anyone else to answer,” wrote Ford in her letter. “When she was able to sneak a word in edgewise, you cut her off again! This went round and around. You interrupted most of the people who spoke last night, including me.”

Melaney Linton, president of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, published a response to Ford’s letter in which she said that Flournoy made “comments and conducted herself in a manner not at all reflective” of the organization’s values and beliefs at the event. Linton added that Flourney’s conduct at the event was “absolutely unacceptable” and that “immediate action” would be taken.

“On behalf of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, I offer my sincerest apology to you and others who were in attendance,” wrote Linton.

Flournoy’s departure comes on the heels of criticism by reproductive justice activists of a New York Times article about Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations’ shift away from using the term “pro-choice.” The article erased “the long-term work of scores of reproductive justice organizations, activists, and researchers that have challenged the ‘pro-choice’ label for 20 years,” explained Monica Simpson of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in an open letter endorsed by dozens of organizations and published on Rewire. “Many of us received feedback from the New York Times reporter, Jackie Calmes, confirming that this history was not presented to her by the mainstream reproductive rights organizations with which she spoke,” said Simpson.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, responded to Simpson’s letter, saying that Planned Parenthood valued the work of reproductive justice activists. “We appreciate that you push us to do this more, and to do it better. And we hear you when you say that we are not doing enough,” wrote Richards. “I am eager to meet with leaders of national women of color-led RJ organizations to formulate shared strategies that honor all of our strengths. I’m also eager to talk to you about the events of the last few weeks, and what we can learn from this experience going forward.”

Responding to the news of Flournoy’s departure, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast released the following statement to Rewire:

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is deeply disappointed in the events of the past few days. They do not reflect Planned Parenthood’s values or beliefs. We are committed to being a better ally to the reproductive justice movement and continuing a dialogue around how to do so. We have started to have meaningful conversations with organizational leaders, partners and allies. We are passionate about the important work that we do and realize that it is only through working together, as true partners and allies, that we will make progress to improving our communities. More than ever, we remain committed to our work in Louisiana. We will continue to partner with advocates and organizations in the communities we serve to ensure that every person who needs high-quality preventive health care is able to get it. We are committed to health care access across Louisiana and in particular to building our new health center in New Orleans.

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast has not yet determined who will serve as interim director following Flournoy’s resignation, and is in the beginning stages of the decision-making process on how to move forward in permanently filling the position. The organization told Rewire that it remains committed to the residents of the state.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Admitted Colorado Planned Parenthood Shooter in Court Again

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Robert Lewis Dear Jr. faces more than 100 criminal charges related to the November siege of a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, which left three dead. Now his attorneys are asking the court to ban Dear from contacting the media.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Attorneys for the admitted Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr. have asked the court to order their client to stop talking to the media. Dear, who was arrested after a November rampage left three dead, is awaiting another court-ordered competency hearing to determine if and when he will stand trial for the 179 counts he faces. That hearing is currently scheduled for August 11.

The California criminal justice system is in shambles, and nobody seems to know what to do about it, not even the California Supreme Court.

Scott Lemieux has this really smart piece on how we may be closer than we think to eliminating the death penalty once and for all.

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The State of Texas has launched more than 40 lawsuits against the Obama administration. Here’s how they all stack up in terms of cost and success.

Nope. The birth control benefit lawsuits are never going to end.

Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times writes that Republican Missouri state Rep. Paul Wieland’s lawsuit challenging the birth control benefit is more about family control than strictly religious beliefs.

Wisconsin is the latest state to see provisions of its voter ID law fall.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the State of Virginia say they will appeal a ruling blocking an order restoring voting rights to thousands of people convicted of felonies.

Attorneys for the State of Kentucky really want to close down a Louisville Planned Parenthood, despite no evidence of wrongdoing at the reproductive health-care center.

In Ohio, the state appellate court ruled that regulations mandating abortion clinics to enter into transfer agreements with hospitals within 30 miles are unconstitutional.

Cornell Law School Professor Sherry F. Colb explains why “Mike Pence’s abortion law” in Indianawhich, among other restrictions, prohibits pregnancy terminations based upon the fetus’ Down syndrome status—is a violation of women’s bodily integrity.

News Law and Policy

Texas District Attorney Drops Felony Charges Against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver's license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston.

UPDATE, July 26, 2:47 p.m.: This piece has been updated to include a statement from Planned Parenthood.

On Tuesday, the Harris County District Attorney’s office in Texas dismissed the remaining criminal charges against anti-choice activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt related to their production of widely discredited, heavily edited videos alleging Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.

The criminal charges against the pair originally stemmed from Republican Texas lawmakers’ responses to the videos’ release. Attorney General Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick all called for the Harris County District attorney’s Office to begin a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast last August, after the release of one video that featured clinic staff in Houston talking about the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for life-saving scientific research.

A Texas grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood staff and declined to bring any criminal charges against the health-care provider. More than a dozen state and federal investigations have similarly turned up no evidence of lawbreaking by the reproductive health-care provider.

Instead, in January, the grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver’s license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to trying to entice a third party to unlawfully purchase human organs.

A Texas judge in June dismissed the misdemeanor charge against Daleiden on procedural grounds.

“This meritless and retaliatory prosecution should never have been brought,” said Daleiden’s attorney, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, in a statement following the announcement that the district attorneys office was dismissing the indictment. “Planned Parenthood did wrong here, not David Daleiden.”

“Planned Parenthood provides high-quality, compassionate health care and has been cleared of any wrongdoing time and again. [Daleiden] and other anti-abortion extremists, on the other hand, spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, and lying. When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up. They spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their anti-abortion agenda. The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” Melaney A. Linton, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement emailed to Rewire after publication.

The district attorney’s dismissal of the felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt happened just before a scheduled court hearing requested by their attorneys to argue the felony indictment should be dismissed.

Daleiden still faces three civil lawsuits elsewhere in the country related to the creation and release of the Planned Parenthood videos.

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