Monday, May 24, 2010

Abortion and Excommunication

Last week, it was revealed that a nun, Sr. Margaret McBride, who is was a hospital administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix had allowed an abortion. According to the Catholic News Agency, the woman was 11-weeks pregnant and suffering from pulmonary hypertension that could possible be fatal. The Diocese of Phoenix announced that by assisting someone to get an abortion Sr. McBride automatically excommunicated herself and that she had since been reassigned from her position.

I'm not going to pretend to know the details of what when on behind the scenes, the woman's actual medical condition or the Catholic identity of St. Joseph's hospital. I do know that the basic story--that a nun was excommunicated for helping obtain an abortion for a woman who's pregnancy was going to kill her--has sparked controversy. As I said, I do not know if that is the full story or not. I don't know if the child could have been carried to a viable state and lived or not but that is the way the story is out there so that's the way I'm going to address it.

One of my Facebook friends addressed it that way and it caused anger and attacks against the church as well as discussion. I've never taken any moral theology classes but I've read enough that I know that the church does not allow direct abortions ever--even when life of the mother is at stake. It does allow what is called "in-direct abortions" which are medical procedures that are necessary and cannot wait until the end of the pregnancy that may cause the death of the child but where that is not the intended result. I explained to my friend, right from the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it states that abortion is always a moral evil and to assist in abortion will result in automatic excommunication. I also explained that excommunication is not permanent nor is it done so lightly. It's done to express to the person that the crime they have committed has be so grievous and to encourage them to reconcile with the Church. It doesn't necessarily mean that person is going to Hell and in fact that no one can say that another is going to Hell--only God can do that.

On the other hand, the incident sparked controversy and scandal because of the very act--a nun allowed an abortion--and intrinsic evil--to occur at a Catholic hospital. It's all black and white and simply not allowed. It is very easy to condemn the nun for her actions.

The situation raises two dilemmas for me. The first, in dealing with my Facebook friends, who for the most part aren't just not Catholic but not really religious either. They, as well as many other Americans who are against abortion on demand, believe that abortion is okay in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. It was difficult to explain the situation from a purely pro-life point of view. Sure, I could more easily defend why it abortion is wrong in case of rape or incest (the baby is an innocent victim also) and even why it's wrong in order to save the life of the mother (point them in the direction of St Gianna-a modern day saint who died shortly after giving birth her her child instead of aborting it.)

But this case is more difficult--what about when both the mother and child where going to die and an abortion would save one of them. For my Facebook friends, it seemed like a no-brainer. You save the life of at least one of them. From the purely theological aspect--the abortion would still be wrong. I asked myself, "What if I was in that position and had to make that decision purely on my own in order to save the life of my wife?" Would I choose the Abby's life over that of my unborn child? I think I would--especially if not doing so would kill them both. I think that if I was at a Catholic hospital, I would get her to a hospital that would do it somehow. Even if it meant condemning myself? Yeah, I think I would jump on that theological grenade in order to save my wife's life. I'm not saying it would be an easy decision but I think that would be the one I would make.

The second thing that bothers me is what seems to be the automatic condemnation of Sr. McBride by many in the pro-life community. I don't think you should judge anyone and most definitely not when you don't know the person or what they went through in order to make that decision. And most certainly not when that person is in need for our prayers instead of our condemnation. Don't get me wrong, I fully understand the Bishop's statement and the reassignment. Abortion is evil and wrong. I would like to think that it was a most difficult decision for Sr. McBride to come to and to allow. Unfortunately, I think Sr. McBride's statement that she believed the statement was "a morally good and allowable act according to church teaching" disproves this theory and was ultimately her downfall.

In the end though, I think, instead of condemning anyone, we should pray for everyone involved. The mother, the child, the family and for Sr. McBride.


  1. In the case you present regarding your wife and choices you would make. Thank God you haven't had to make that choice!

    I think it's something spouses should communicate about for sure. We have four children (so far) and my husband and I have discussed this...even with no problems ever in pregnancy/labor/delivery.

    We agree that our wishes are always ... no matter the perceived danger ... to treat mother and baby as one unit during the pregnancy and leave it in God's (and my very capable NFP doctor's) hands.

    I can't imagine some of the anguish people might go through finding out that perhaps a pregnancy could be so dangerous as to endanger the life of both the mother and the child. When my husband and I first discussed the hypothetical scenario, though, we both knew that from the moment a new life was conceived...we loved that baby so much that we would lay down our lives for him/her., there was our decision.

    I don't mean to make light of the fact that maybe not so many people could get to that point. I don't mean to make it sound like it was an easy jump. I think we got to that point because of our years of conscience-formation on the matter of life...and I definitely think the fact that we experienced pregnancy, childbirth...factored into our decision as well.

    As far as the case of this judgment from me. Hadn't even heard about the situation until I read your blog today.

    I do think that Satan has conveniently placed this little loophole (for lack of another word)into the hearts of humans with the "exception" of "life of the mother"...

    I'm not saying mothers' lives should always be expended for the offspring. As you mentioned, should something need to be done in order to save a mother's life, the indirect (and unintended) killing of the child is sometimes required...but the direct action is not an abortion.

    I have read some medical opinions where the doctors have said it is very difficult to completely predict that the pregnancy itself is putting the mother's life at risk...I guess I just have a problem with making the decision to abort when no one but God knows the complete truth and plan surrounding the situation.

    "In the end though, I think, instead of condemning anyone, we should pray for everyone involved. The mother, the child, the family and for Sr. McBride." Absolutely.

    PS: I'm sorry this is with many people, this issue is one that touches so deeply on so many levels. The passion I feel against legalized abortion in this country sometimes seems to know no bounds. I hope this came off charitable and not condemning toward anyone (I read it many, many times before I clicked "post")

  2. Oh I don't think it was long winded at all--I think it was marvelous! :-)

  3. Jamie, you sound like a blessing to many! I can relate to much of what you say. You're probably just the person your friends can benefit from. You sound very faithful of course, yet reasonable and understanding that to many faithful and non, this is a most unfathomable case (of which we have barest of details).

    I've made my peace with it, based on my faith and informed conscience. I thank God that Sr. Margaret used God's gifts and wisdom to save a life which could be saved in a tragic situation, given the imminent loss of unviable 11 week old fetus. I guess what shocks me is that now (according to all pro-life blogs I belong to) I am officially pro-choice based on this one very rare instance. I never imagined I was, but I must accept this label and grow in understanding. I join you in your prayer... St. Gianna, pray for us!

  4. The boy who was killed was viable, and the pregnancy was proceeding normally. Abortion is not a "treatment" for heart disease, and the mother's life was not in danger from the pregnancy (She was not even in the ICU when the procedure was performed.) Get the WHOLE story here: