Roundup: Saving the Mother’s Life Gets Nun Excommunicated


It should be so simple.  A woman pregnant with an 11 week old fetus enters a hospital, where a team of medical experts decide that continuing the pregnancy is likely to kill her.  The medical team performs an abortion, and the woman lives.

For approving that action, a long-time nun has now been excommunicated, according to the Arizona Republic.

A Catholic nun and longtime administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix was reassigned in the wake of a decision to allow a pregnancy to be ended in order to save the life of a critically ill patient.

The decision also drew a sharp rebuke from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Diocese, who indicated the woman was “automatically excommunicated” because of the action.

The Bishop sees no issue with the fact that any other option would have killed both mother and child, and stands by his ruling, the Washington Post reports.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Diocese, indicated in a statement that the Roman Catholic involved was “automatically excommunicated” because of the action. The Catholic Church allows the termination of a pregnancy only as a secondary effect of other treatments, such as radiation of a cancerous uterus.

“I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese,” Olmsted said in a statement sent to The Arizona Republic. “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.”

Olmsted added that if a Catholic “formally cooperates” in an abortion, he or she is automatically excommunicated.

Yet not everyone in the church thinks the situation is so cut and dry.  Some church leaders, such as Father Tim, actually see value in NOT killing women.

Although I cannot disagree with the bishop’s theology and support the Church’s protection of the sacredness of all life, I suspect he needs “medical” treatment himself: a strong injection of reality.

Most important is a simple reality: If the mother of an 11-week-old fetus dies, the fetus will also die. It is too soon in life for the child to survive outside the womb no matter what the hospital might try. That means two deaths. Is there really a morally defensible reason for two innocents to die when one can live? It’s a hackneyed phrase, but what would Jesus have done?

It is long past the time to reconsider this. If all life deserves our protection and is sacred to our Creator, then a mother’s life is just as worthy as her child’s. How has this become lost in the battle over abortion?

Some people, in fact, are wondering if it is ever safe to allow a woman to seek medical help in Catholic hospitals, knowing that their own health and well-being will be put behind religious dogma.  From Huffington Post:

[I]f my life were at stake, or that of a woman I loved, I would not want to risk the chance that a woman less enlightened or flexible than Sister McBride was the ethicist ruling on my case in a medical emergency. So let me make this clear: At the present moment, as a physician, I would not feel comfortable with a woman I cared about seeking obstetric services at a Catholic hospital. In fact, I would not want a pregnant woman I cared about obtaining any medical treatment at a Catholic hospital. From this point forward, I will tell my pregnant patients, in all but the most emergent and high-risk circumstances, to instruct any ambulance that picks them up to avoid Catholic hospitals. That is tragic, because these institutions have a long and noble history of providing care to this nation’s needy and most desperate. Alas, thanks to men like Mr. Olmsted, obtaining obstetric care at a Catholic hospital has become a dangerous game of Russian roulette.

Seem like an overreaction?  Not really, once you read some of the comments on the Fox News version of the story.

Only God has the right to end a person’s life. Who is to say that the mom’s life is more precious than the baby’s? Maybe God wanted that unborn baby to live rather than the mom. It’s not our decision, it’s God’s. We have to put our lives in God’s hands and trust that He is Almighty and knows better than us.

And of course, one person claims, “We don’t know alot about this case, but I’m sure the Bishop knows more than we do.”

Not the doctors, not the patient, not the hospital staff.  It’s the Bishop who obviously knows best and should be trusted.

Mini Roundup: Speaking of “Bishops know best,” a Canadian Arch Bishop says women should never be allowed abortions after a rape because “There is already one victim, must there be another one?”  Political leaders tell him to stop trying to roll back 40 years of women’s rights.

May 14, 2010

Context Matters – Newsweek

Palin: I Understand Temptation to Have an Abortion – CBS News

Kenya: Debate over constitution referendum warms up – EnerPub

Small Anti-Abortion Advocacy Group Flexes Muscle In Midterm Elections – Kaiser Health News

Pro-Life Caucus on shaky ground – Congress.org

Groups protest forced ultrasounds – MyFox Tampa Bay

Crist hints at abortion ultrasound bill veto – Tampa Tribune

Sarah Palin slams feminist groups on abortion — and makes an interesting point – Washington Post

Bill expands abortion-consent regulations – Columbia Missourian

Palin hits campaign trail for anti-abortion group – CNN International

Mom to be Charged with Killing Unborn Infant while DUI – Lifesite

Abortion, Gay ‘Marriage’ among the Most ‘Insidious and Dangerous’ Challenges: Pope – Tips-Q GLBT News

Abortion legislation a political wildcard for Crist – Florida Times-Union

Powerful churches target Kenya’s Constitution over abortion – Christian Science Monitor

Mo. House passes abortion language expansion – KWMU

Sarah Palin on Her Favorite Subject: Abortion – TIME

Chris Selley’s Full Pundit: God will see you now, Mr. Harper – National Post

Missouri legislature approves abortion law – St. Louis Globe-Democrat

The Generation Gap in Abortion Support. – Tapped

Pentagon mandates ‘morning-after’ pill – BP News

LETTERS: Obama satire, abortion debate and more – Newsday

Palin says Obama would ban guns if he could – The Associated Press

The Pill – Western Front

Researchers Testing Birth Control Gel For Men – CBS 5

Contraception makes women slaves to sex – Pocono Record

Gates steers clear of HPV vaccine row – The Hindu

Family council calls for greater awareness in allocation of budgets – AngolaPress

ANGOLA: Putting a dent in the maternal death rate – IRINnews.org

May 15, 2010

Elena Kagan on Abortion – About – News & Issues

Abortion Should Guide Crist on Bill – The Ledger

Palin speaks to anti-abortion ‘mama grizzlies’ – Salt Lake Tribune

Nun at St. Joseph’s Hospital rebuked over abortion to save woman – Arizona Republic

Palin pushes abortion foes to form ‘conservative, feminist identity’ – Washington Post

OFL: Pro-Choice Movement “Die-In” at Minister Bev Oda’s Office – Marketwire

Laura Bush Opens Up About Disagreements with Husband on Gay Marriage, Abortion – CBS News

Nun rebuked over abortion to save woman – News10.net

Kagan’s abortion stance has both sides guessing – Los Angeles Times

Phoenix hospital nun rebuked for allowing abortion – Washington Post

At 50, birth control is still a bitter pill – Kansas City Star

Not a bitter Pill to swallow – Times of India

New York midwives lose right to deliver babies at home – The Guardian

Child health: The time for disregard is over – Jakarta Post

May 16, 2010

PM reignites abortion fight – Toronto Star

A closer look at Fla. abortion bill -  Tampabay.com

Democrats abandon women on abortion, again  – MSMDC News

Ethics measure, abortion limits, DWI overhaul passed in session – Joplin Globe

Crist should sign HB 1143 – MiamiHerald.com

Abortion: Don’t ask, don’t tell – Toronto Star

Catholic Hospital Punishes Administrator for Authorizing Abortion to Save … – True/Slant

Minorities split over history, goal of abortion – Canton Repository

Abortion foes capitalize on health care law – The Associated Press

New book suggests Tories pushing Christian agenda – CTV.ca

Faraway doctors give abortion pills by video – DesMoinesRegister.com

Sarah Palin Is Not a Feminist – Huffington Post

Nun Excommunicated For Allowing Abortion – MyFox Houston

Kyl, Feinstein Parry on Court Pick Kagan – CBS News

When Church laws allow for abortion – Daily Nation

PQ leader slams Cardinal Oullet’s abortion remarks – Montreal Gazette

Majority objects to leaving out abortion in G8 plan: poll – CTV.ca

Irish nun excommunicated after abortion to save mother decision – Irish Central

Budget deal, busy week await Okla. lawmakers – Tulsa World

Marois slams Cardinal Ouellet’s abortion remarks – Montreal Gazette

An Irish nun, a Catholic hospital, a dying mother, an abortion, and… – Irish Central

Liberals, Conservatives and Abortion – New York Times

Anti-Abortion Groups Upset with New Video Conference System – KCRG

After St. Joseph’s: Are Women Still Safe in Catholic Hospitals? – Huffington Post

The Pill: woman’s best friend? – Telegraph.co.uk

What the birth control pill really did for women – CTV.ca

Canada must help stop HIV spread in poor countries: expert – Vancouver Sun

Newborn HIV still ravaging Tanzania – The Citizen Daily

School peers help spread the word about preventing pregnancy, STDs – Herald & Review

Doula Month observed – Maryville Daily Times

May 17, 2010

Dropping the A-word – Toronto Star

Millions in Planned Parenthood funding on budget chopping block? – California Catholic Daily

Crist hints at abortion veto – Politico

HIV among gay, bisexual men at alarming highs in Asia – Reuters

False diagnosis of TB in HIV patients is fatal – Times of India

Cut out HIV discrimination call – BBC News

Delivering a better future for women and girls – Modern Ghana

INDONESIA: Gender inequality endangers women’s health – IRINnews.org

Victims of violence often abused economically – Fort Worth Business Press

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  • crowepps

    I think it was early in my participation on this forum in a discussion of ectopic pregnancy that a ProLife participant said that “nobody objects to abortion to save the mother’s life”.  Now Thomas J. Olmsted, the Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, has proven them categorically wrong.  If a woman with a serious illness is 11 weeks pregnant, medical personnel are supposed to let her die together with her fetus because ‘the Rule’ is more important than her life.

     

  • crowepps

    The really odd thing about this is that as I understand the doctrine of double effect, it’s supposed to be the case that so long as your intent is not to kill the fetus, but to treat the disease, if the fetus is killed as a side effect of the treatment it is merely unfortunate and not morally culpable.

     

    So the intent here was to remove the placenta, which was what was mucking around with maternal hemodynamics in the first place. Killing the fetus is an undesired consequence of this removal, but the goal wasn’t to kill the fetus.

     

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/catholic_hospitals_favor_death.php#comments

    So if PP stops providing abortions and instead ‘removes placentas’, does that suddenly make everything morally okay?

  • prochoiceferret

    Now Thomas J. Olmsted, the Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, has proven them categorically wrong.

    I’m sure the “pro-life” movement will now aggressively protest Mr. Olmsted, excoriating him for his support of a “culture of death,” repeatedly calling him a “mommy killer,” blocking the entrances to his church buildings, harassing his staff and followers, gluing shut the locks to his rectory, and not condemning too stridently the lone nutjob who firebombs his offices.

  • crowepps

    You’re forgetting there isn’t anything contradicting the ProLife position is letting PREGNANT WOMEN die – that’s perfectly okay, because that’s ‘only’ the sin of indifference.

     

    Neglecting to intervene and save their lives doesn’t involve the possibility of anyone have to take responsibility for making an actual DECISION.  Of course, it does involve a ritual hand-washing and the statement “I am innocent of this woman’s blood, it is God’s responsibility”.

     

  • colleen

    Now Thomas J. Olmsted, the Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, has proven them categorically wrong.

    I’ve had this discussion with many ‘pro-life’ men and women. The men have been known to brag that their wives would GLADLY sacrifice their lives in this situation. I believe their expectation is that an expressed willingness to die in childbirth or gestation is the trademark of a ‘good’ woman and if you aren’t willing then we need laws to force compliance.
    Of course when the ‘woman’ is a 10 year old they’re just as sanctimoniously eager to sacrifice the life of the pregnant child. I’m constantly astonished to see forced human sacrifice being sold as ‘morality’. What’s wrong with the women who buy into this? Don’t they consider their daughters and grandaughters?

  • crowepps

    What’s wrong with the women who buy into this? Don’t they consider their daughters and grandaughters?

    Well, since their fathers, brothers and husbands make it crystal clear that it’s unimportant to them whether their daughters, sister, wives or daughters live, the women themselves internalize that their daughters and granddaughters are inferior and don’t deserve life either.

     

    Consistent social training in a psychologically abusive pattern defines the subgroup as defective, worthless, lesser than, and pretty consistently results in the despised subgroup internalizing inferiority, learning helplessness so they can’t escape, and buying into the pattern of placating the abuser to avoid punishment themselves while enabling the abuser to target others for punishment. After all, they’ve had 2,000 years to perfect their brainwashing techniques, you’ve got to expect them to be expert at it by this time.

     

    Just ask the experts what the Church’s position on feminity is:

    “Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil’s doorway. You should always go in mourning and in rags.” Tertullian

    “Among all savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman.” St. John Chrysostom

    “Every woman should be overwhelmed with shame at the thought that she is a woman.” St. Clement

    “Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children as she is capable of, makes herself guilty of that many murders.” St. Augustine

    You’ve got to wonder is St. Augustine includes nuns in that.  Probably.  And nothing much changed for women with the Protestant Reformation:

    “Woman is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by Satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading to all perdition. It is necessary that woman recognize this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. This is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame. Calvin”

  • wendy-banks

    I used to work at St. Jo’s (4 years, Pharmacy Department), and she was one of the FEW nuns I liked. I think her decision to save the mother’s life was the right one– Too bad the higher ups in the church would prefer to see the mother to die. I wonder what she’ll do now…

  • squirrely-girl

    So I wonder – does she just get “forgiven” and reassigned to a position where she can’t make decisions now?

  • colleen

    does she just get “forgiven” and reassigned to a position where she can’t make decisions now?

    No, it’s not as if she’s done something relatively minor like spend a long career sexually abusing and raping hundreds of children in her care. She’s done something as bad as supporting the ordination of women. She has been excommunicated. She is no longer a Catholic and, thus, no longer a nun.
    It is my hope that she will find a decent church where she will be allowed freedom of conscience and treated with the respect and decency she deserves.

  • progo35

    Crowepps-

    Right off, I want to make it clear that if I were in the nun’s place, and the doctor told me that they had to do an abortion to save a woman’s life, I would have done exactly what she did. I’m surprised at the situation this article describes because the church specifically makes exceptions for this kind of situation. Having said that, I’m kind of surprised to see that quote from St. Augustine. Where did you get it from? I’m interested because I generally consider him to be a bit more “enlightened” on female issues than some of the other early church thinkers you mention.

     

    Although, of course, you must realize that the church has changed a lot since that time. Most churches I know make a significant distinction between a woman’s right to equal pay, for instance, and a woman’s “right” to have an abortion. Because they see equal pay as a justice issue for the woman, they support it. Because they see abortion as killing someone, even if it does benefit the woman, they feel they cannot support it. You make it sound as if anyone who opposes abortion opposes all other women’s rights.

  • princess-rot

    I’m reminded of the old joke: “It only took Eve to mislead Adam, but it took Satan to mislead Eve.” Says a lot about what religion thinks of men and women.

  • crowepps

    Although, of course, you must realize that the church has changed a lot since that time.

    Which church are you talking about?  The Catholic church?  The one that is investigating the “quality of life” of American nuns?  The one where the only ‘proper roles’ for women are virgin or mother?

     

    Or are you talking about the various fundamentalist Protestant churches that limit votes on church issues to men only and refuse to let women speak on the issues?  The ones that won’t let women teach Sunday school because they shouldn’t “instruct” men.

     

    Or the ones that say that a 6-year old child should be left in an underfunded foreign orphanage rather than be adopted by a single Christian woman of impeccable character?

     

    There are various sexist quotes from various religious leaders widely available on the net.  Of course, there are also various sexist quotes from historical figures associated with all sorts of organizations.  The present day leaders of most of those organizations, however, have made it clear that they reject those out dated prejudices, and the Church has not.

  • ritab311

    If you lived in the area of this man, you would realize that he thinks he is a little God.  No he thinks he is GOD.  Now tell me which fetus is more dead, the one they aborted to save this mother or the one that has to die because of radiation due to cancer?  This man is evil.  I am a Catholic and I will never give one cent more to this man.  And he does get money from those of us that donate in the church.  He has done so many mean things..  Like he donated $50,000.00 to the state of Maine to fight against same sex marriage while we have little children going hungry in our city—where he is bishop.  What is he trying for, POPE.  Many people have left the church over things that he has done and they are still leaving.  Saving one life or taking two Bishop, your choice and you took it upon your self to throw another Catholic out of the church.  Who’s next, me because I spoke up?  I am sure there are many churchs that would love to have me give the 10+% that I WAS giving at the Catholic church that I attend.  Now it will be going to charities, none of which you are connected too.

  • progo35

    “Which church are you talking about?  The Catholic church?  The one that is investigating the “quality of life” of American nuns?  The one where the only ‘proper roles’ for women are virgin or mother?

     

    Or are you talking about the various fundamentalist Protestant churches that limit votes on church issues to men only and refuse to let women speak on the issues?  The ones that won’t let women teach Sunday school because they shouldn’t “instruct” men.”

     

    ERRR…no, never been to one of those, Crowepps. I know there are bad churches out there, as I’ve been to some of them, but even the worst, most horrible place I ever went let women and men teach together/follow the same career paths. In contrast, I know many “progressive” Christians and clergy that oppose abortion despite supporting many other progressive social reforms/movements. Sexism just isn’t what it was years ago. It’s not that is isn’t there, but it is inaccurate to characterize “The Church” (which, by the way, traditionally refers not only to the plethora of Christian denominations but to all Christians) as being a monolithic entity with one opinion on these issues.

     

    As for “quotes on the net” that’s just not very compelling. I thought you were going to tell me that you actually read a whole work by St. Augustine like “Confessions” or “City of God,” and that the quote came from one of those works. He may very well have said what you quoted him as saying, but just grabbing quotes off the internet out of context doesn’t help me much as a Christian or a student of history.

  • crowepps

    It’s not that is isn’t there, but it is inaccurate to characterize “The Church” (which, by the way, traditionally refers not only to the plethora of Christian denominations but to all Christians) as being a monolithic entity with one opinion on these issues.

    I agree that The Church isn’t a monolithic entity with one opinion on these issues, which in my opinion makes it kind of weird to respond to my post by saying “the church has changed a lot since that time.”  Some parts have improved and others have not.

    Sexism just isn’t what it was years ago.

    Of course, this isn’t because the church spontaneously decided sexism was wrong, but instead because women used the political arena to take on all those sexist attitudes one issue at a time, refusing to buckle under to ‘the church’s’ determined resistence to their rights to control their own property, vote, become educated, manage their own businesses, divorce, use contraception, etc., and made it clear they weren’t going to tolerate any more, and SOME parts of the church had to choose between changing their tone or facing empty pews.

    I thought you were going to tell me that you actually read a whole work by St. Augustine like “Confessions” or “City of God,” and that the quote came from one of those works. He may very well have said what you quoted him as saying, but just grabbing quotes off the internet out of context doesn’t help me much as a Christian or a student of history.

    Frankly, I couldn’t choke down much St. Augustine, since I get really annoyed by self-appointed authorities who make up philosophical/religious theories about what things “really mean”, insist they personally are the One True Expert in ‘God’s Grand Design’, and then gloat while informing everybody who lives the way they themselves USED to live that those people are “doomed”.

     

    I did read some of City of God a lot time ago while doing some reading up on ‘famous rehabilitated heretics’ but I thought his theological goal of creating a Platonic/Christian synthesis was both unnecessary and strained and had little connection to the Christianity revealed in the Gospels.