Denver’s Democratic Mayor Michael Hancock appears to have helped fundraise for an event earlier this year meant to “celebrate the joy of life” and support anti-abortion pregnancy centers.
The “Beacon of Hope” gala raises funds for Catholic Charities’ Marisol Services (formerly Lighthouse), which, in addition to assisting women with housing and other basic needs, runs multiple anti-choice pregnancy centers in Colorado that attempt to sway women from choosing abortion.
The gala, which was sponsored by FirstBank and other entities, featured a live auction with several “date night” items, including two tickets for seats in “Mayor Hancock’s box” at the Denver Center for Performing Arts to see the Broadway musical Hamilton.
Marisol Services, as stated on its webpage, provides “life-affirming medical care” and “a full range of women’s health and family health services,” a range which includes free ultrasounds, pregnancy testing, and counseling, but not abortion or contraceptives. In fact, a Catholic News Agency article, which was republished on Catholic Charities’ website, explains that Marisol’s mission is to “eliminate abortion from the definition of women’s healthcare.”
And, troublingly, Marisol offers an “abortion pill reversal” process for women who change their minds about wanting to terminate their pregnancies after taking the first dose of the abortion pill, a process which hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and isn’t recommended by American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
ACOG has warned that in addition to being just as effective as doing nothing at all to reverse an abortion, this method poses a variety of health risks.
The abortion reversal method is yet another weapon wielded by the anti-abortion movement, and helps weave that movement’s narrative that women make hasty or uninformed decisions that they later come to regret, despite evidence showing that women who seek abortion care are actually quite sure of themselves.
These offerings and messaging are typical of anti-abortion pregnancy centers, which in recent years have been cropping up in big numbers nationwide. They now vastly outnumber legitimate abortion clinics, but sometimes masquerade as abortion clinics in an attempt to attract women who might be considering abortion and attempt to change their minds, often by offering misinformation about risks associated with the procedure. These pregnancy centers are often faith-based.
Hancock once faced ethical questions regarding how he uses the free tickets he receives from the city to shows and concerts at several venues across Denver.
The tickets, which are made possible by Denver taxpayers, were initially meant to be used for business and marketing purposes on behalf of the city, according to a 2012 report by CBS4’s Brian Maass.
In the CBS4 report, Susan Barnes-Gelt, a former Denver city councilwoman who helped author Denver’s ethics code, explained that the “intent was the mayor as CEO of the city would be able to use the tickets strategically to entertain visitors to the city,” adding that they are meant “to advance the agenda of the city, not the agenda of the mayor’s office.”
But the report found that Hancock had gifted nearly half of the tickets in 2012 to people within his inner circle and other friends and city employees. Hancock defended his use of the tickets by stressing “the importance of them being seen in those theaters and showing our support for the arts in Denver.”
That same year, the city attorney asked the ethics board if it would be appropriate for the mayor to donate the tickets to charities and non-profits to be used for fundraising purposes, and the board gave the idea a stamp of approval.
It appears that no restrictions are currently in place governing the types of charities to which the mayor can donate tickets.
It’s not the first time Hancock has supported Marisol.
Hancock attended last year’s Beacon of Hope gala, where he delivered a speech in which he showered Marisol Services and Catholic Charities with praise:
“What Catholic Charities is doing through the wonderful Marisol project—the City of Denver is humbled and proud to be your partner,” he said. “Catholic Charities, thank you for standing in the gap for so many vulnerable individuals in our community. I ask you to keep praying, keep praying for those in our community who need prayer every day as you and I do.”
Hancock’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Mayor’s stance on abortion has been called into question in the past.
Prior to his election in 2011, when asked by a reporter about the role of women voters and reproductive choice in the mayoral race, Hancock implied that abortion isn’t an important issue for Denver voters and downplayed the role of the mayor’s office on reproductive care.
“I think there comes a time as politicians we overreach and we talk about things we really don’t have an impact on,” said Hancock, as quoted in the Colorado Independent. “I’d rather talk about those issues that families told me they care about when I met with Highland Mommies, they didn’t talk about choice.”
After Hancock’s mayoral opponent, former state lawmaker Chris Romer, called Hancock’s stance on abortion into question, his communications director fired back, saying “Michael is pro-choice. He received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. Period.”
But Hancock’s opponents pointed out that his answers to Planned Parenthood’s questionnaire didn’t explicitly state his position as pro-choice.
According to the Denver Post, the questionnaire asked candidates to identify their stance on individuals’ rights to make their own medical decisions as “Pro-Choice,” “Pro-Family Planning,” “Anti-Choice” “Unsure” and “Other.” Hancock chose “Pro-Family Planning,” but added to his answer, saying “I respect the right of all women to make their own personal and private reproductive decisions.”
“If he says he’s pro-choice, then why didn’t he check that box on the questionnaire?” asked Romer spokeswoman Laura Chapin, as quoted in the same Denver Post article. “Pro-choice means you support abortion rights. Pro-family planning means you support contraception. These are not the same thing.”
When asked about his response by Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner, Hancock said the following:
“I support the woman’s right to choose. I also wanted to make a statement that I believe that our children are having struggles understanding, one, how to protect their bodies. We have a growing number of children who are becoming infected with STDs and so I just believe that pro family planning give us the best opportunity to get our kids education to protect their bodies and to make sound decisions.”
Recent allegations of sexual harassment against Hancock have left the mayor facing broader questions regarding his treatment of women.
Hancock has found himself in hot water after it was revealed late last month that he sent several sexually suggestive text messages to Leslie Branch-Wise, who served on his security detail during his first year in office.
After Branch-Wise spoke out about the incident, Hancock issued an apology, but refused to recognize the text messages as sexual harassment, saying he “blurred the lines between being a friend and being a boss.”
A rally calling for Hancock’s resignation took place March 7, several days after news of the allegations broke.