A nun who served on the ethics board at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix is in serious trouble because she supported a woman having an abortion. Now I should note that my mother graduated from nursing school at St. Joseph's Hospital, and worked in a medical office next door for almost as long as I can remember until the building was torn down. So it holds a special place in my memory.
Sister Margaret McBride, after talking with doctors and others who served on the ethics board, agreed that a mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant but had pulmonary hypertension should be allowed to receive an abortion. The doctors all believed that the hypertension would have killed both the mother and the fetus if the pregnancy was allowed to continue. With this information, and after agonizing over the situation, Sister Margaret agreed that an abortion should be performed to save the life of the mother. The diocese disagreed and not only removed her from her position at the hospital but has also excommunicated her.
The hospital has stood behind the decision made as medically necessary to save one life rather than losing two. The bishop has other ideas however saying, "An unborn child is not a disease ... the end does not justify the means." I understand the Catholic church's teaching on this, but wonder how is it that one life trumps the life of another? If life is sacred shouldn't they be working to save life? Doctors are not always correct, but even other ethical panels are saying they made the right decision in that if an abortion had not been performed both lives would have been lost. Is that a better outcome? Does that end justify something?
What many critics are also pointing out is the speed of the action. This happened last November and Sister Margaret was excommunicated in May. That is just a mere six months. Compare that to the defrocking of Michael Teta, an Arizona priest found guilty by a church trial of molesting children over several decades. His case was turned over to the Vatican in 1992 by Bishop Moreno who implored them for his removal. Teta was not removed until 2004, 12 years later.
The church loses points for hypocrisy when saying that the life of this fetus is more important than that of the mother and more important than treating pedophile priests the same way they have treated Sister Margaret. I also don't understand their push that abortion is the key issue when they just as strongly oppose the death penalty. And yet, they are not denying communion to politicians who support the death penalty, although they do for those who support abortion rights.
Although some will see this an an attack on the Catholic church, it is not. The church needs to have positions and stand behind those, but when absolutes are set than injustices will be carried out and I think that is what is happening here. Things need to be understood in context. Even canon lawyers are saying that this decision for supporting the abortion can be supported by church law. Let's pray for peace and understanding for all involved.
Here is the position of the United Methodist Church on abortion from the Social Principles (¶ 161.J):
The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.
But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy.
We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. We support parental, guardian and other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions can be performed on girls who have not yet reached the age of legal adulthood. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.
We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.
We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause they to consider abortion.
The Church shall offer ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth.
We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption. (See ¶ 161.K.) We affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.
Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.