Abortion and the life of the mother

You may have heard something about a Phoenix nun and hospital administrator who was excommunicated last month after she allowed an abortion in order to save the life of the mother.

The case has received a tremendous amount of attention in several circles for obvious reasons. By all accounts, Sister Margaret McBride was a highly respected figure at St. Joseph’s Hospital and in the Phoenix community.

There has been much debate in the blogosphere not only about McBride’s decision and the reaction by the bishop of Phoenix — who condemned McBride’s actions — but about how Catholic teachings apply to this situation.

As a result, the U.S. Bishops Conference has released a statement to explain the difference between “direct abortion” and a “legitimate medical procedure.”

The four-page statement begins by acknowledging the Phoenix situation and the need to clarify church teachings. It does not mention McBride — but concludes, quite clearly, that she was wrong.

The statement declares that a direct abortion is always wrong, circumstances notwithstanding.

But a medical procedure that treats a serious condition and, as a secondary effect, ends a pregnancy may be permissible.

I would recommend reading the entire statement, but here is an important snippet:

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The difference can be seen in two different scenarios in which the unborn child is not yet old enough to survive outside the womb. In the first scenario, a pregnant woman is experiencing problems with one or more of her organs, apparently as a result of the added burden of pregnancy. The doctor recommends an abortion to protect the health of the woman. In the second scenario, a pregnant woman develops cancer in her uterus. The doctor recommends surgery to remove the cancerous uterus as the only way to prevent the spread of the cancer. Removing the uterus will also lead to the death of the unborn child, who cannot survive at this point outside the uterus.

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The first scenario is a direct abortion.

The second is, according to the bishops, a legit procedure.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix must be relieved. The bishops backed his previous statement: “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.”