KUHF Conversations: Melaney Linton

It's been a tough year for Planned Parenthood in Texas. Political opposition to abortion has led to funding cuts for seemingly unrelated services provided by the organization – services such as contraception and breast exams. Some clinics have shut down. But the Gulf Coast Chapter has continued to grow, with a new clinic opening in Northwest Houston. Now there's a new President and CEO, Melaney Linton.

KUHF Health and Science Reporter Carrie Feibel sat down to talk with Linton, who began just last week.

 

Q: Melaney, you've been at Planned Parenthood 24 years. How did you get involved?

"I started working as a health center assistant in what was then our Fannin clinic. And I worked three days a week in the family planning clinic and two days a week in the abortion service. And I think that sometimes when I was working in the abortion service people would ask me ‘Isn't that a depressing place to work?' And I would say ‘On the contrary, because what we do there every day is provide women services that they desperately need.' And at the end of the day, women are typically relieved that they have received such high-quality care, and that we provide it with compassion, and that we help them determine what they need to do in terms of preventive birth control for the future."

Q: Politically, Planned Parenthood has often been embattled in Texas. When was it the worst?

"Well, I think right now is one of the hardest times. One of the things that's very frustrating about what happened in the last Texas legislative session is the cuts to family planning: $70 million in cuts out of the last legislative session. That's already happened. Now what we're facing is the loss of the Medicaid waiver program for family planning. Tens of thousands of women in Texas depend on that program every year. That program saves the state money. For every dollar that the state of Texas spends on that program, we draw down nine dollars from the federal government."

Q: So would you say that in your 24 years at Planned Parenthood things are as bad as they've ever been?

"Things are as challenging as they've ever been for our clients. Politicians who say they're against abortion are enacting public policies that will actually result in more unintended pregnancies and more abortions."

Q: And at times these political battles have been much more public and disruptive. For instance, 1992, when the Republican National Convention was held in Houston. And abortion providers were basically besieged by pro-life protestors. What was that like?

"Thousands were in the streets. There were thousands across Houston.  But we had a command center that started 4 a.m. every morning that looked at where protestors were going to be, which clinics were going to need clinic defense. And at Planned Parenthood we had our own operation. Sometimes we would have as many as 400 volunteer clinic defenders and escorts around our perimeter ensuring that we could get our clients in the doors."

Q: What was your role during all of that?

"My role was controlling the front door. I stood in front of the front door, and I had a coded list of clients. I would signal when I confirmed that this was a client with an appointment, that the door could be opened and the person inside would open the door and we would let her in."

Q: Now, twenty years have passed since then, and the most recent fight was over the new sonogram law in Texas, where women are required to get a sonogram before undergoing an abortion. How are your patients dealing with this?

"Women are strong and women will do whatever they need to do to make the best choices for themselves and their families, no matter what barriers are put in their place. So women are enduring what they must in order to access the health care that they need."

Q: Do you think that law is here to stay?

"I hope not, but elections have consequences. And people need to educate themselves and they need to make sure that they're electing candidates that represent their values." 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...