Emails Show Colo. Official Asking Planned Parenthood to Help Craft Press Release

Sec. of State announced Alabama travel ban in wake of new abortion limits

A Planned Parenthood office in New York / Getty Images

A Colorado official asked Planned Parenthood to help write the Alabama travel ban in the wake of that state's new abortion limits, according to documents.

On May 16, Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold announced that her office would no longer allow taxpayer-funded travel to Alabama to protest the country's most comprehensive abortion ban, but not before getting Planned Parenthood's approval. A staffer in her office turned to the nation's largest abortion provider for help crafting the official taxpayer-funded communication. Griswold's communications director Serena Woods emailed a draft asking for edits from Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains official hours before the policy went public.

"Draft of what we are thinking attached. LMK [let me know] thoughts/edits. If you could turn around as quickly as possible that would be great because SOS wants to move fast," she said in an email obtained by Channel 9 News in Colorado.

Planned Parenthood's Whitney Phillips returned an edited copy asking Sec. Griswold to strike out "right to choose" from the announcement, as well as track changes explaining the edits. She proposed changing the pro-choice language to instead accuse Alabama of damaging "reproductive health care" in the passage of abortion limits. That rhetoric, she said, polls better than traditional pro-abortion labels.

"We don't recommend using right to choose/pro-life/pro-choice language anymore, all polling indicates it is further polarizing and turns folks off," Phillips said in a note. She offered to hop on a phone call with the secretary of state's office if they wanted to discuss further.

Sec. Griswold's office accepted Planned Parenthood's edits, striking "right to choose" from the public announcement released two hours later.

"I will not authorize the spending of state resources on travel to Alabama for this training or any other purpose," Secretary Griswold said in the release. "This is one action that I can take in response to this egregious law against women."

The revelation that her taxpayer-funded communications are being edited by one of the nation's most prolific lobbying groups raised ethics questions, according to former public officials. "I don't think it's ethical, I think it's wrong," former deputy secretary of state Suzanne Staiert told Channel 9. "Whether you agree with Planned Parenthood's platform or not, I think we can all agree that we shouldn't have our policies in the state dictated to us by special interest groups."

Colorado political reporter Kyle Clark said Griswold had betrayed the non-partisan nature of her job to oversee the state's election process. He called her actions the equivalent of the National Rifle Association editing official communications from Republican officials.

"This is not about her personal political views and its not about yours … We must have that special kind of faith that our secretary of state will be fair and impartial in elections and on contentious ballot issues," Clark said. Secretary of State Jenna Griswolds actions have broken faith with Colorado."

Griswold enjoyed the support of pro-abortion interest groups during her 2018 election, the first campaign that she ever ran. She received $1,150 from EMILY's List, a national group that supports pro-abortion candidates, as well as $1,000 from Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, according to FollowtheMoney.org.

Some pro-life activists viewed the scandal as further proof of Democrats entrenching themselves with the abortion lobby, a move which could alienate voters who largely support late-term abortion bans. Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, said the edit suggestions reveal the lengths to which groups like Planned Parenthood go to massage traditional abortion talking points. He was struck by "how frightened both groups have grown of using the label ‘pro-choice.'"

"In the age of ultrasounds, ‘choice' is no longer a strong enough term to distract from the reality of the unborn child," Schilling said. "While Democrats may try to hide behind further obfuscating words like ‘healthcare,' pro-lifers should take solace that we are winning the battle for hearts and minds, and this is one of the clearest signs yet.

Neither Woods from the secretary of state's office, nor Phillips of Planned Parenthood responded to requests for comment.