10,000 calls later, Planned Parenthood Votes volunteers near the end of a ‘triggering’ election

Women found a positive space volunteering for the political arm of the reproductive healthcare provider.

Election Day at PP Votes HQ Downtown

Election Day at PP Votes HQ Downtown

Sarah Anne Hughes / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

On the darkest days of this election season — and there have been many — Kelly Nestman could find refuge Downtown with other Planned Parenthood Votes volunteers.

“This election has been so triggering,” intern Nestman said from the group’s makeshift command center, dubbed “Who Run the World Headquarters.”

“I look around the room,” she said of a space decorated in colorful signs with slogans like “Love Trumps Hate” and “Hill Yes.” “It’s so happy and positive.”

Nestman is one of about 50 people who have been making calls to voters in Western Pennsylvania on behalf of Planned Parenthood’s political arm during this election season. The group expected to surpass 10,000 calls this afternoon.

Statewide, Planned Parenthood Votes volunteers have knocked on more than 430,000 doors, according to Jessica Semler, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Western Pa.

“We’ve been working so hard,” Semler said, adding that the Pennsylvania effort is the “most extensive program [Planned Parenthood has] ever put on.”

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While abortion has made Planned Parenthood a political target, the women’s healthcare provider is supported by a majority of Pennsylvanians.

A September poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters have a positive view of Planned Parenthood, while 34 percent have a negative view. Sixty-six percent agreed that Planned Parenthood “is an important provider of health care to women in America,” and a majority of voters said Sen. Pat Toomey’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood made them less likely to vote for him.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund has endorsed Toomey’s opponent, Katie McGinty, as well as Hillary Clinton for president.

Semler has worked on three presidential campaigns. This is her first for Planned Parenthood, and it’s also the “most personal.”

“People don’t know how dangerous Pat Toomey is,” she said, citing the senator’s votes to defund Planned Parenthood.

Semler said when women come to Planned Parenthood for a service — like obtaining birth control — “she’s not thinking she’s making a political decision.” At the moment, Planned Parenthood can provide services to low-income women. If it was defunded, Semler said, the most vulnerable women would be hurt by that decision.

In recent weeks, volunteers have been calling voters to explain that Planned Parenthood is a healthcare provider, Semler said, and to talk about the candidates’ positions. That includes “making sure they understand Toomey and [Donald] Trump are in lockstep” on Planned Parenthood and abortion access, she said.

(Toomey’s campaign has pushed back on the claim that he “and Trump will ban abortion and punish women who have them,” an idea put forth by NARAL Pro-Choice America and deemed “mostly false” by Billy Penn and Politifact.)

Volunteer Kate DiStefano said the calls with voters have been “overwhelmingly positive.” Nestman, who is considering attending medical school to become abortion provider, said some people she called were unaware of Toomey’s stance on Planned Parenthood.

The release of a video in which Trump can be heard bragging about being able to grab women “by the pussy” because of his celebrity was an especially rough moment for Nestman, who said the election has been particularly bad for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, something 90.5 WESA explored.

How have they connected during the debates, discussed issues or sought support? Has the conversation seeped into their psyches? And how do they expect to feel when the election ends and the news cycle moves on?

The flip side: The audio made voters more “enthusiastic about getting to vote for a female candidate,” DiStefano said, but also “to vote against that kind of attitude toward women.”

“I felt more empowered than I used to, since I started doing this,” DiStefano said.

DiStefano and Nestman cast their ballots for Clinton this morning, they said.

Both women cried.

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