January 06, 2017
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey wants to defund Planned Parenthood, and Nina Starner wanted to know why. So she called Toomey's Philadelphia office.
During that call, she said, a male staffer told her she should be less "graphic" the next time she calls to discuss legislation regarding women's health.
Starner, 26, of Philadelphia and lead editor of Drink Philly, said she called Toomey's office a little after 5 p.m. Thursday. Speaking with the staffer, whose name she did not get, Starner began to ask about Republicans' plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
That conversation went nowhere, as the staffer was light on specifics as to how his boss and other Republicans will replace Obamacare, Starner claims. So instead, she turned her focus to Planned Parenthood.
Toomey has supported ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and congressional Republicans are poised to strip $400 million in annual funding from the organization, which provides birth control, abortions and various women's health services. Starner describes herself as "very pro choice," adding that she donates to the organization every month.
Starner says the staffer sidestepped when she pointed out that federal funds are not allowed to go toward abortions under the Hyde Amendment. According to Starner, the staffer countered that the funding could easily be diverted to community health centers, but he wouldn't provide details on how those centers would be able to account for the services provided by Planned Parenthood.
At some point, the staffer asked to take down her name and ZIP code, and Starner obliged, saying she'd love to call back every day to talk to Toomey about her reproductive system and her period.
That's when the staffer suggested that the next time she calls, she shouldn't "be so graphic," Starner says.
Starner took umbrage with the comment, telling the staffer that the office "should understand workings of reproductive systems since they're legislating on them." The staffer again told her there was "no need to be graphic," before lecturing her some more and then abruptly hanging up, Starner claims.
A Toomey spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment by phone and email Friday morning. A call to Toomey's Philadelphia office to discuss the conversation was directed to the senator's press office.
Starner admits she may have mentioned cramps and IUD birth control devices but asserts she "certainly didn’t go into graphic detail." The conversation with the staffer was tense, and Starner also admits she likely came off very frustrated.
But, Starner noted, "I am one of his constituents; it's my right to voice my dissent, especially since I didn't vote for Sen. Toomey."
"I feel I have the right to go to a staffer in a frustrated tone of voice," she added.
Starner said she feels underrepresented by Toomey, and the phone conversation "just drove that point home to me."
The responsiveness and tone of Toomey's staff in hearing constituent concerns has been an issue raised several times since his re-election and the election of Donald Trump, whom Toomey admitted to voting for on the 11th hour of Election Day.
In November, a Delaware County woman said her conversation with a staffer got heated when she inquired about Toomey's non-existent position on Trump nominating Stephen Bannon as chief strategist.
Later that month, the Tuesdays with Toomey group, which meets outside the senator's office on a weekly basis, did get a meeting with a Toomey staffer and submitted complaints and concerns. But as Daily News columnist Helen Ubiñas pointed out Friday, that group has yet to be granted an audience with the senator himself.
Starner said her conversation with the Toomey staffer has only invigorated her. Not only is she joining the Tuesdays with Toomey group, but she's also received interest from 10-20 others to start another group to air their grievances to the senator. The working title: "Toom-raiders."
"I am so far from done," she says. "He has several offices, and I plan on calling one every day.”