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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.

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.

News Family Planning

Lawsuit Challenges Arizona’s Attempt to Defund Planned Parenthood

Nicole Knight Shine

The Republican-backed law specifically targets abortion providers, excluding any facility from Medicaid that fails "to segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions, including the use of taxpayer dollars for any overhead expenses attributable to abortions.”

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked a federal court to block an Arizona law defunding Planned Parenthood, arguing in a legal challenge filed Thursday that the Arizona measure is “illegal.”

The GOP-backed law, signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in May, specifically targets abortion providers, excluding any facility from Medicaid that fails “to segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions, including the use of taxpayer dollars for any overhead expenses attributable to abortions.”

Federal law already bars health-care providers from using Medicaid dollars for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

In an 18-page complaint, the plaintiffs argue that the restriction is impermissible under Medicaid statutes, and they ask for an injunction on the law, which goes into effect August 6. Planned Parenthood said in an emailed statement that the law could slash funding for birth control, cancer screenings, and preventive care, affecting more than 2,500 Medicaid patients in the state.

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The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state Medicaid agency, did not respond to a request for comment.

Jennifer Lee, staff attorney at the ACLU, called the Arizona law “another attempt to intimidate doctors who provide abortion and to punish low-income women in particular,” in a statement announcing the lawsuit. Planned Parenthood operates 11 medical centers in the state, including three in underserved and impoverished communities with high rates of infant mortality, according to the court filing.

At least ten states, including Arizona, have attempted to strip Planned Parenthood of funding—the fallout from a string of deceptive smear videos masterminded by David Daleiden, the head of the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress, who now faces a felony record-tampering charge.

“This case is about the people who rely on us for basic care every day,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an announcement of the Arizona suit. “We’ll continue fighting in Arizona, and anywhere else there are efforts to block our patients from the care they need.”

The Arizona law represents the state’s second attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. In 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision finding a similar defunding measure, HB 2800, violated federal Medicaid law.

In April, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent a letter to all 50 states saying that cutting funding to qualified providers solely because they provide abortion care violates federal law.

Independent analysis suggests gutting Planned Parenthood funding exacts a toll on health care.

2015 report from the Congressional Budget Office indicated that health-care access would suffer under Planned Parenthood funding cuts, with the potential for $650 million in additional Medicaid spending over a decade and thousands of more births.

In Texas, births surged 27 percent among low-income women who were using injectable birth control but lost access to the service when the state cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.