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.