A Phoenix nun has been "automatically excommunicated" for recommending an abortion to save the life of a woman, raising the question of how much the Church hierarchy really cares about women's lives.
According to the AP, Sister Margaret McBride was on the ethics panel of a Catholic hospital, which last year heard the case of a woman who was 11 weeks pregnant. The woman had pulmonary hypertension, and her pregnancy "carried a nearly certain risk of death." A letter from the chair of the hospital's board says, "If there had been a way to save the pregnancy and still prevent the death of the mother, we would have done it. We are convinced there was not." Given this, the ethics panel recommended an abortion.
Michael Clancy of the Arizona Republic writes that as a result of this recommendation, McBride has been transferred in the last few weeks from her former administrative role "to another position in the hospital to focus on a number of new strategic initiatives." She has also been "automatically excommunicated" from the Catholic Church. Says Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix archdiocese,
I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese. I am further concerned by the hospital's statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother's underlying medical condition.
An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means.
The "unborn child is not a disease" comment seems especially irrelevant, since pulmonary hypertension certainly is a disease — and one that, in this case, seemed likely to kill both mother and fetus. Clancy asked James J. Walter, a bioethicist at a Catholic university, "if the church position prefers the mother and child to die, rather than sparing the life of one of them" — Walter only answered that "the hope is that both would survive." But the pregnant woman in Phoenix needed help, not hope — and McBride was punished for allowing her to get it.
This isn't the first time the Church has moved against those who support women's rights. Back in 1996, a Nebraska bishop ordered all Catholics in his diocese to quit organizations like Planned Parenthood and Catholics for a Free Choice, or face excommunication. And in April, three Catholic women's orders in Washington state learned they were being investigated by the Vatican as part of a follow-up to "complaints of feminism and activism." According to Sister Joyce Cox, a delegate of the Seattle Archbishop, such investigations usually happen "because there is something of great concern, or some place of scandal or not having integrity to the origins of our life." But Cox says the Washington orders, which run a women's halfway house and work against human trafficking, have done nothing wrong. Whatever the case, when "feminism" is an offense worth investigating, and a woman's impending death isn't reason enough to terminate a pregnancy, it's clear that Church officials have a lot to learn about women's equality.
Hospital Nun Rebuked For Allowing Abortion [AP, via MSNBC]
Wash. Nuns Investigated By Vatican [KUOW, via BoingBoing]
Nun At St. Joseph's Hospital Rebuked Over Abortion To Save Woman [Arizona Central]
Related: Some Catholics In Nebraska Face Excommunication Order [NYT]