Saints Preserve Us and Find Us a Non-Catholic Hospital

I was born at a St. Joseph’s hospital in New England, but brought up in a Protestant home. As a young girl I remember being told to be sure never to make the mistake of having a baby in a Catholic hospital, because they would let the woman die in order to save the baby. Even all those years ago I could not make sense of a religion that claims to be pro-life, yet would not protect the life of a living woman, someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s beloved partner.

Recently at another St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, a 27 year-old pregnant woman became extremely ill. An ethics panel at the hospital gave permission for the 11-week pregnant woman to have a lifesaving abortion. Sister Margaret McBride was part of the hospital’s ethics panel. Though she made no individual statements about her views on choice, it appears that she supported the decision of the panel. For this act of conscience the bishop of Phoenix has announced that Sister McBride was subject to ‘automatic excommunication.’

All over this country, women depend on Catholic hospitals for their healthcare because that is all that is available in their community. They cannot imagine that their lives will be in jeopardy because of the rules of a church in which women have no moral authority. They do not agree to be treated as less than full human beings. We cannot accept a situation in which those who run Catholic hospitals are allowed to treat Catholics and non-Catholics alike with flagrant disregard for the most basic of human rights. Health care must not be an opportunity to hold people hostage to the canons of a church that cannot even persuade its own members to obey. Yet our tax dollars help support these institutions. What is our recourse? 

Sister McBride deserves our gratitude for risking her own job and her place in the church to listen to her conscience. It is extraordinary and appalling that her willingness to take a stand for another woman’s very life merits excommunication. Just as appalling is the fact that public policy in the United States is still heavily influenced by the men who lobby on behalf of this archaic and misogynistic religion, witness the recent debacle over healthcare.

I now live outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the only hospital in the area has recently been taken over by the Catholic Church.  At another time it could have been me whose life was held in the hands of strangers–my life to save or waste according to the beliefs of people not even required to observe the hard won laws and freedoms of our country.  Even now I still cannot make sense of a religion that claims to be pro-life yet would not protect the life of a living woman—someone’s mother—someone’s daughter—someone’s beloved partner.

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  • julie-watkins

    I keep reading that doctors & other medical staff have a “right of concience” and questions like: no one can force a eye doctor to do heart surgery. But that argument doesn’t work for OB-Gyn, IMO. An OB-Gyn/hospital that can handle births would be able to handle late term abortions. It’s the same skill/tool kit to provide abortions as to handle miscarriage or preeclapsia.  

    This is a public health issue. If it’s a hospital that “doesn’t do abortions” there’s a risk to the mother’s health because they might let a crisis go too long before operating. If a hospital wants to have a policy that no medical staff can make referrals then I’d have a problem with the state accrediting that hospital for OB-Gyn.

  • crowepps

    Even now I still cannot make sense of a religion that claims to be pro-life yet would not protect the life of a living woman—someone’s mother—someone’s daughter—someone’s beloved partner.

    As I understand the argument of the apologists in this case, the living woman’s continued life is irrelevant to the Church compared to the state of the souls of the strangers around her who the Church forbids to help her.  Of course, they also say they are letting her die ‘for her own good’ because refusing her medical intervention keeps HER soul pure.


    All of which, in my opinion, means they shouldn’t be running hospitals at all.  Personally I go to the hospital for medical care, not to have someone else judging and taking over management of the state of my soul.

    • liberaldem

      In my humble opinion shouldn’t mix. I’m with you-if I’m going to a hospital, it’s for medical care, not religious instruction or oppression.

      If Catholic hospitals, or any other hospitals affiliated with religious denominations are going to inflict their religious beliefs on patients then they should be completely funded by the denomination, and not getting one thin dime of government money.

  • rosececilia

    I’m becoming more and more ashamed to be Catholic.

  • amyc

    Could a woman (or her family) sue the Catholic Church if she is severely harmed/dies due to not receiving an abortion?

    I’m not sure how legal it is to deny a life-saving procedure–especially if the woman/family (or emergency contact in charge of making her decisions) has asked for it.

    I’m not going to ask a Catholic hospital to perform an elective abortion, but they should be held responsible for any harm done to the mother, the fetus, and any surviving family members when they deny a life-saving abortion.

  • crowepps

    Judging by their standard procedure in child sexual abuse cases, if there have been such lawsuits, the settlements were likely made on a condition of confidentiality so that word doesn’t get out.


    It is also far more likely that a jury will award a plaintiff money because Doctor A or Nurse B DID something than on an amorphous reality that a whole bunch of different people DIDN’T do something.  It is very, very hard to prove neglect in court because of the obvious defense: “My  judgment was that ‘conservative treatment’ was the best option and the patient was safe if we waited”.  The hospital certainly isn’t going to reveal evidence that the reason for the wait was that Nurse B’s or the hospital administrator’s highfalluting morals required septicemia before they were willing to participate in saving a life.