Marisol clinics help abortion-vulnerable women choose life, rebuild lives

Catholic Charities offers health care, housing and human services to women with crisis pregnancies

Nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and about 4 in 10 of these are terminated by abortion, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion, the 2013 study shows.

There were 8,333 abortions last year in Colorado, a decrease of nearly 18 percent from 2015, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Marisol Health, a network of medical clinics run by Catholic Charities of Denver, aided that decrease by providing life-affirming medical care, counseling and social services to women facing crisis pregnancies.

Denisa Thomas, 28, is among the women Marisol Health helped to bring their unborn babies to birth. Thomas had already had three abortions and several miscarriages when she first visited Marisol’s Denver clinic, strategically located across the street from abortion provider Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ headquarters.

Adding to Thomas’ distress: the father of her unborn child was incarcerated, she had no health insurance and an 8-year-old son to care for.

“Planned Parenthood was my favorite place to run to,” Thomas said. “That’s mostly the reason why I’ve done abortions in the past, out of fear of being a single mom and struggling.”

With her history, Thomas feared she couldn’t have a healthy pregnancy.

“I thought maybe I had messed my body up and I wanted to see … if the baby was OK,” she said.

At Marisol Health she heard the baby’s heartbeat and saw her growing child via an ultrasound.

“If God gave me one more chance to have this baby, I’ve got to have it,” she decided.

The compassionate staff at Marisol Health helped her make a plan. They scheduled her appointments, gave her donated clothing and suggested resources to help during pregnancy, and after. She now takes classes at Community College of Aurora and worked part-time while awaiting the birth of her child.

Thomas has reclaimed her dignity and, with it, confidence.

“I’m really proud of myself,” she said. “I got over my fear.”

This wall of photos at Marisol Health highlights the many babies that were born because of the low-cost and compassionate care they offered women. (Photo by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

That’s the goal of Marisol Health, said Jan McIntosh, Catholic Charities’ vice president of women’s services.

“We try to address all the barriers women are seeing in their lives that are influencing their consideration of abortion,” McIntosh said. “We really try to walk with them and help them realize they have more options than they might see at the current time.”

Formerly known as Lighthouse Pregnancy Center, the name of the clinic was changed to Marisol Health in July 2016, when it also expanded its services to offer women affordable, comprehensive health care. Within a short time it added a second location in Lafayette and an outreach office at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“We wanted to come up with a brand that would resonate primarily with women in the childbearing years,” McIntosh said, adding they were led by research from the Vitae Foundation, which helps pro-life organizations create messaging that resonates with abortion vulnerable women.

Vitae Foundation findings show that women with crisis pregnancies often shy away from overtly religious clinics for fear of being judged, McIntosh said. The Spanish name Marisol, she added, aims to evoke the beauty and essence of nature while subtly paying homage to Catholic values.

“Marisol was created from mar, which means sea, and sol, which means sun,” McIntosh said. “In history, it’s also a term that honors the Blessed Mother.”

The name is believed to be a shortened version of Maria de Sol, “Mary of the Sun,” or Maria de la Soledad, “Mary of Solitude.”

Marisol Health clinics are welcoming, women-focused centers whose Catholic identity shines through the chapels available for the guests and the Christian care of the staff.

The clinics are just one arm of Marisol Services, which also includes housing for single expectant mothers, single mothers with children and single women, who are experiencing homelessness, through four Marisol Homes, and human services through other Catholic Charities entities.

“It’s a pro-life continuum of services,” McIntosh said.

During fiscal year 2017, Marisol Health served 821 clients, 70 percent of whom earn less than $30,000. Additionally, 133 babies were born to mothers assisted by Marisol Health. The most recent may be Thomas’ daughter Leah, who was born Dec. 12.

Marisol Health made possible the seeming impossibility for Thomas to have her child and to build a brighter family life and future. She continues to be served through Marisol Health.

“When I go in I feel like I’m the only person there,” she said. “If I have a bad day, I go to talk to someone. I get plenty of support.”

In fiscal year 2017, the number of women who received prenatal care at Marisol Health increased four-fold. The clinics are now at, or close to, capacity given their current number of providers, for prenatal visits, McIntosh said.

“As we grow are going to need many more resources so we can continue to serve more women,” she said. “We also need to expand our digital marketing, that’s where women are going to search for abortions. We are doing some digital marketing but we need to expand it, to enable us to help women as they come to that crisis point.”


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COMING UP: Introducing Marisol Health

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Introducing Marisol Health

Connecting women to healthcare for life

When a woman finds herself in a crisis pregnancy, she needs more than a free test and a referral; she needs a connection to a wide network of support that can help her navigate this life-changing event.

This is the vision behind Marisol Health, an initiative of Catholic Charities that seeks to consolidate the current offerings available to women facing unexpected pregnancies with little material, emotional or spiritual resources, while also creating a network of clinics that offer women affordable comprehensive healthcare.

According to Jan McIntosh, vice president of women’s services at Catholic Charities, Marisol is a unique model for women’s healthcare that is a natural outgrowth of the “continuum of care” approach that currently drives the operations of Catholic Charities. And, she added, it’s something they’ve already been doing.

The most important thing we can do is walk with a woman on her journey. Being able to have a close relationship, plug her in and set her up for success with the resources of Catholic Charities is beautiful.”

“We’ve had the infrastructure, [and] we’ve had the ability to connect women, men, and families into the other services of Catholic Charities,” she told the Denver Catholic, such as those that “help women both with decision making around what to do with their pregnancy, but also other areas in their lives that were causing them stress.”

Examples include connecting women to social services such as emergency shelter, child care, victim assistance, and counseling, as well as material help such as diapers and other needs for moms with newborns.

McIntosh noted that connecting women to these services won’t be through a referral. “We actually have a person on site who can connect them immediately,” she said. “That’s what we find is really critical—it’s establishing that relationship and that trust. Particularly when women are at a point of vulnerability.”

Additionally, Marisol forged a partnership with Bella Natural Women’s Care, a medical clinic in Englewood, to expand its services even more to include a full complement of women’s health care that allows for convenient and affordable options for testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, care of adolescent girls, abortion pill reversals, ultrasounds, natural family planning, infertility care, obstetrics including prenatal care, delivery and post-partum, problem gynecology and menopause.

Marisol Selects-5_DC

Marisol Health, headed by Jan McIntosh (right), is partnering with Dede Chism (left) and Bella Natural Women’s Care to provide women with affordable, comprehensive health care. (Photo by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

McIntosh said that the relationship with Bella is what sets Marisol apart: “What makes us unique from the model where we were functioning and where many of the pregnancy centers across the country are functioning right now, is that they do largely the initial pregnancy testing, maybe some STD testing, and ultrasounds. Many clinics are not then able to offer the full complement of prenatal care, overall woman’s care.”

“What we know is women feel whole through this continuum of care,” said Dede Chism, nurse practitioner and director of Bella. “The most important thing we can do is walk with a woman on her journey. Being able to have a close relationship, plug her in and set her up for success with the resources of Catholic Charities is beautiful.”

Marisol Health will begin with two clinics: one in Denver, in what was formerly known as Lighthouse, and one in Lafayette, CO. The Denver office is currently open and the Lafayette office is projected to open in early October.

In addition to these clinics, Marisol will run an outreach office on the campus of CU Boulder.

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Josh Florence contributed to this report.