Catholic health clinic fights back against defamatory video

Marisol Health threatens liberal advocacy group ProgressNow Colorado with legal action

Roxanne King

Marisol Health threatened legal action publicly May 23 against ProgressNow Colorado demanding that Marisol’s image and reference be removed from a propaganda video that mischaracterizes the women’s health care and implies it to be a “fake clinic.”

Marisol, which is run by Catholic Charities, held a press conference at its Denver clinic after its attorneys received no response from a May 17 letter giving ProgressNow, an aggressive liberal advocacy group, three days to meet their mandate.

“It’s a clear case of defamation, called libel, and we are prepared with Marisol to take this to the next level if ProgressNow and its affiliates don’t respond to our demand letter,” attorney Michael Norton said at the media event. “As of this moment there has been no response.

“That is not surprising for drive-by organizations like ProgressNow whose political interests outweigh truth. The truth here is that Marisol Health does provide comprehensive health care for women, it is a quality organization and it will do what it needs to do to defend its reputation.”

Norton was joined by Jan McIntosh, vice president of Marisol Services, and Dede Chism, co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care and Family Wellness, which partners with Marisol.

Through its partnership with Bella, Marisol runs clinics in Denver and Lafayette that provide a full range of women’s health care services provided by licensed medical professionals. Marisol’s health care services include comprehensive obstetrics, gynecological and prenatal care, infertility care, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, and abortion pill reversals.

On staff are three board-certified doctors, four nurse practitioners, a certified nurse midwife and case managers.

Through its partnership with Bella, Marisol runs clinics in Denver and Lafayette that provide a full range of women’s health care services provided by licensed medical professionals. (Photo by Vanessa Chavez | Marisol Health)

“We provide these services to all who come to our door no matter whether they are able to pay or not,” McIntosh said. “In fact 45 percent of our patients have no income or income less than $15,000 per year; 45 percent have Medicaid and 32 percent are uninsured.”

Marisol also offers counseling and social services to its patients who need them, McIntosh said. Those services include mental health and substance abuse treatment, domestic violence intervention, and housing for single expectant mothers, single mothers with children and single women who are experiencing homelessness.

“We are shocked and offended that an organization would use our name to make false statements about our licensed medical staff and seek to deter help for so many women who are often without food, housing, jobs, emotional support and quality medical care,” McIntosh said.

The ProgressNow video titled “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” includes photos of four crisis pregnancy centers in the metro-area, including the Denver Marisol Health clinic, as a woman, identified only as Aubrey, a 40-year-old art teacher, recalls her college experience of being referred to an unidentified clinic when she found herself with an unexpected pregnancy.

Aubrey relates that the pregnancy center lacked medical personnel outside of an ultrasound technician, which concerned her as she had a seizure disorder that could have been fatal to her pregnancy. As the video shifts to city scenes, bold white text over the photos declare: “There are more than 60 crisis pregnancy centers in Colorado; Staff rarely have any medical training; They often lie or refuse to provide accurate information.”

“It’s a clear case of defamation, called libel, and we are prepared with Marisol to take this to the next level if ProgressNow and its affiliates don’t respond to our demand letter,” attorney Michael Norton said at the media event May 23. (Photo by Vanessa Chavez | Marisol Health)

The video is posted to ProgressNow Colorado’s Facebook page. It is also on the No Fake Care website of ProgressNow affiliate, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. COLOR also put up billboards around Denver that say, “In Your Neighborhood: Fake Health Center” and include the nofakecare.com web address.

The video and billboards are part of a trend by pro-abortion groups to undermine the work of pro-life pregnancy centers. The US Supreme Court is now deciding a case—National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra—to determine whether a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers to inform women of the availability of abortions elsewhere violates their First Amendment and free speech rights.

“We demand that all video footage of and references to Marisol Health on ProgressNow’s website or Facebook page, including the website or Facebook page of COLOR or any other ProgressNow affiliate, and posted to YouTube, be immediately deleted or redacted from all such websites, Facebook pages or YouTube postings,” Norton wrote in the letter to ProgressNow Colorado.

ProgressNow didn’t respond to requests from the Denver Catholic for comment.

Client response to Marisol Health is proof that its groundbreaking services are valued, Chism said.

“The forging of services between Bella and Marisol brings a new level to health care,” she said at the press conference. “The need for this innovative style, this new style of women’s health care, has been evident in the overwhelming response we have received in the last three and half years … in the caring for over 5,000-plus patients.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misstated what the propaganda video actually said in reference to Marisol Health. It has been updated to more accurately reflect the mischaracterization of Marisol Health by ProgressNow.

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA