Inside Planned Parenthood's $30 Million Campaign For 2016

Nearly 1,000 volunteers gathered in Pittsburgh to kick off the grassroots operation to keep Donald Trump and other anti-choice politicians out of office.
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is incredibly unpopular with female voters.
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is incredibly unpopular with female voters.
Jim Urquhart/Reuters

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Donald Trump may think Planned Parenthood does "good work," but its members have few nice things to say about the presumptive GOP frontrunner in return.

"Asshole," "racist," "chauvinist," "dangerous," "unqualified" and "pendejo" were all words Planned Parenthood volunteers used when asked to share their thoughts about Trump. One woman said she thought a fart noise would be more appropriate than an actual word.

Nearly 1,000 of Planned Parenthood's most active volunteers gathered in Pittsburgh this past weekend for an intensive Power of Pink grassroots training, the kickoff for the organization's 2016 work. The group has endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton, so mobilizing against Trump will be a major focus.

"He says in the same breath that he loves Planned Parenthood, we do great work and at the same time vows to defund us because we provide abortion access. That's no friend of ours," said Deirdre Schifeling, who leads the group's national organizing and electoral work.

Trump recently promised that if elected president, he would also name anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court.

Planned Parenthood aims to spend close to $30 million in the 2016 election cycle to make sure he doesn't get that chance. That amount would be the most money it ever spent in an election and double what it spent in the last cycle, according to Schifeling. The focus will be on reaching 5 million voters known as "swing women" -- women who view access to reproductive health care as a core issue but are independents and flip between the parties.

On Saturday morning, the Power of Pink attendees gathered for a final rally that, at times, felt like a Purim carnival. Whenever, someone mentioned Trump, inevitably, the entire room would erupt in boos.

"Every election has stakes. This one has some serious stakes, ya'll. Serious stakes. I'm just going to say it again: Donald Trump. If those are not stakes, I don't know what else is," said Marlon Marshall, the Clinton campaign's director of state campaigns and political engagement.

"We cannot trust Donald Trump with our lives, and we can't trust him with our future and we can't trust our country in his hands," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. "He seems to live in a world where bullying and stoking fear and anger is the only way to get ahead and where cutting down others is the only way to get on top. And for us, that's all too familiar how that feels," she continued. Richards then read off some of the terms Trump has used to describe women -- "bimbos," "dogs" and "pigs."

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards addressed nearly 1,000 volunteers at a rally in Pittsburgh on May 14, 2016.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards addressed nearly 1,000 volunteers at a rally in Pittsburgh on May 14, 2016.
Planned Parenthood

But as volunteers and speakers stressed over and over, congressional elections and races at the state level will be just as important. After all, it's at the state level where Planned Parenthood has had to wage its most consistent battles, as Republican officials have pushed forward bills cutting off and restricting reproductive health access.

Indeed, this training seemed to be one of the few places in the country where the words "down-ballot races" elicited wild cheers from the crowd.

Planned Parenthood's 2016 work will be focused on Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida and Colorado -- all states that have competitive U.S. Senate races.

"We understand very clearly that the reason that women's access to reproductive health care is being decimated at the state level is because we have lost governors races and state legislative races over the last several cycles in states. And we're in an untenable position politically," Schifeling said. "So we have to win those back in time for redistricting [in 2020]."

The year 2020 came up several times during Pink Out. The party that controls statehouses at that time will have significant sway over redrawing electoral maps. And being in charge of redistricting can reshape who holds political power in future years.

Figuring out how to get young people to pay attention to down-ballot races is a key challenge for Natalie Henriques, 33, a Planned Parenthood volunteer in Reno, Nevada. She's been focused on how to get college students educated about the open Senate seat being vacated by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"If students really know what is honestly good for them and what Trump's America is going to look like, then it's important to point out that they need to start locally in Nevada," she said. "The president can only do so much. Everything has to go through Congress and [the] Senate."

At the Pink Out training in the City of Bridges, a constant focus was on ensuring that volunteers bridge the divide with other communities that don't traditionally get as prominent a voice in the reproductive rights debate.

Atlanta volunteer Cazembe Jackson, 35, identifies as a queer transgender man and credits Planned Parenthood with saving his life after he was raped and had to get an abortion as a junior in college.

"I was referred to a rape crisis center, which probably saved my life at the time -- definitely saved my life," Jackson said. "So a lot of the reason that I organize and work with Planned Parenthood is of course protecting the right and the ability to access abortions, but also keeping trans and gender non-conforming people as a part of the conversation around reproductive health and rights."

Jackson said the Planned Parenthood name is still a powerful brand -- and one he trusted when he needed help in college.

"You know that if you are needing any kind of reproductive health stuff -- not just abortion -- if you need to have those conversations as a queer or trans person, you can go to Planned Parenthood," he said. "And because you know who Planned Parenthood is, you know you can go in and still be treated with dignity... and not have to worry about any kind of religious rhetoric."

Jackson's work reflects Planned Parenthood's policy agenda for 2016, which will focus on equalizing access to reproductive health care, cementing the right to safe and legal abortion and making sure young people have access to quality sex education.

Winnie Ye, who ran the policy session at the training, said it's essential to make sure the right people are in office if this agenda is to succeed.

"It's very important who's in elected office -- local, state, federal level. ... We've been around for 100 years, we're going to be around for the next 100 years," she said. "We want to make sure that anybody who's going to be elected in office knows what we're about and they're going to help carry out this agenda if they're elected."

Bag spotted at the Pink Out training in Pittsburgh.
Bag spotted at the Pink Out training in Pittsburgh.
Amanda Terkel/HuffPost

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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