Back in May, I wrote here at TMV about a Roman Catholic nun who was excommunicated for approving an abortion that was necessary to save the life of the mother.

Now, the hospital where that abortion was performed — St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona — has had its Catholic affiliation removed by Bishop Thomas Olsted of the Roman Catholic diocese in Phoenix:

The Phoenix case centers on a woman in her 20s who was 11 weeks pregnant in November 2009 when she developed severe pulmonary hypertension, a life-threatening condition. Doctors concluded that they had no choice but to abort the pregnancy to save her life.

When Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix learned of the abortion in May, he announced that a nun involved in the decision, Sister Margaret McBride, had been excommunicated because of her role. Olmsted cited a directive by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Olmsted followed up that decision with a letter demanding that the hospital take a number of steps to ensure it was complying with church policy, which led to several months of negotiations between the hospital and the diocese.

In announcing the decision Tuesday, Olmsted said that “subsequent communications” with hospital officials “have only eroded my confidence about their commitment to the Church’s ethical and religious directives for healthcare. They have not addressed in an adequate manner the scandal caused by the abortion.”

Scandal? Strange word to describe saving a human life, which is what the doctors at St. Joseph’s did.

I have often heard it said that abortions that are necessary to save the life of the mother are justified by the concept of self-defense and so do not contradict official Catholic pro-life doctrine. Obviously, medical training is necessary to determine when a pregnant woman will die without an abortion. So, if Bishop Olmsted used the word “scandal” to describe a life-saving abortion, excommunicated Margaret McBride for approving that abortion, and stripped the hospital where McBride works of its Catholic status for allowing it to be performed, to me that suggests that the Roman Catholic diocese of Phoenix is either (a) claiming its medical expertise is greater than the medical professionals at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center; or (b) conveying that it will not allow a Catholic hospital to perform any abortion, ever, even to save the life of the mother. Or both.

Either way, these are not, in my view, pro-life positions. Fortunately, St. Joseph’s response to Bishop Olmsted’s actions does appear to be genuinely pro-life:

“Though we are deeply disappointed, we will be steadfast in fulfilling our mission,” Linda Hunt, St. Joseph’s president, said in a statement. “Our caregivers deliver extraordinary medical care and share an unmatched commitment to the well-being of the communities they serve. Nothing has or will change in that regard.”

Hunt also defended the original decision to perform the abortion.

“Consistent with our values of dignity and justice, if we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients,” Hunt said. “If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case. We continue to stand by that decision. . . . Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

In a statement, Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association of the United States praised St. Joseph’s and Catholic Healthcare West for “their long and stellar history in the protection of life at all stages.”

“St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix has many programs that reach out to protect life. They had been confronted with a heartbreaking situation. They carefully evaluated the patient’s situation and correctly applied the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services to it, saving the only life that was possible to save,” she said.

Bishop Olmsted and his fellow religious bureaucrats should feel shamed by that kind of professionalism and integrity — if they had any shame.

Kathy Kattenburg
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