After the fuss made by various pro-life and religious groups about the advert for Marie Stopes International on Channel 4 that I wrote about here, I've picked a couple of religious reactions to specific cases of abortion to take a rational look at.
Sister Margaret McBride is a nun, senior administrator and member of the ethics board at St Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. A 27 year old woman who was 11 weeks pregnant and already had four children, was admitted to the hospital with pulmonary hypertension and told by doctors that if she carried on with the pregnancy, the risk to her life was almost certainly 100%.
Sister McBride met with the woman and with doctors and decided that this case was an exception to Catholic health care directives. She gave the go-ahead, the abortion was performed and the woman survived.
The woman, Sister McBride and every other Catholic involved in either the decision or the procedure was then excommunicated by Bishop Thomas J Olmstead. McBride was also re-assigned to 'lesser duties'.
In a Q&A statement, the Diocese of Phoenix said:
What can be done when a pregnant woman's life is in danger?
The underlying condition should be treated.
If the baby cannot survive outside the womb and the mother may die, isn't it better to save at least one life?
First, we have to remember that a physician cannot be 100% sure that a mother would die. Second, the mother's life cannot be preferred over the child's. It is not better that the mother live the rest of her existence having had her child killed.
Why was Sr McBride excommunicated?
Since she gave her consent and encouraged an abortion she automatically excommunicated herself from the Church.
Does that mean that all women who have had an abortion are excommunicated?
Yes, anyone who has had an abortion is automatically excommunicated. But so are those who encouraged the abortion, helped pay for the abortion, or performed the abortion, including those who directly assisted in its performance.
What is the purpose of excommunication?
The purpose is to repair scandal, to restore justice and to reform the offender. It is a scandal to the entire Church that a woman religious [a nun] would consent to and encourage an abortion. It is also a scandal that a Catholic Hospital would perform such a reprehensible act.
Is anything more required of a woman religious who has been excommunicated by participating in an abortion?
Canon Law requires that a member of a religious community be dismissed from religious life unless their superior decides that dismissal is not completely necessary.
Is St Joseph's Hospital in danger of losing their endorsement from Bishop Olmsted?
These realities are a scandal to the faithful and must cease if CHW wishes to maintain recognition as a Catholic institution in the Diocese of Phoenix.
Last year, a nine year old Brazilian girl was pregnant with twins after being raped, allegedly by her stepfather. The authorities said that the abuse started when she was six. The doctor, the medical team and the child's mother were excommunicated by Archbishop Don Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Recife. He said that "A graver act than rape is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life".
The child was not excommunicated because she was a minor. Sobrinho explained that "The church is benevolent when it comes to minors".
Finally, in Canada, Cardinal Ouellet said that the crime of rape should not be compounded by another crime, that of abortion.
These stories have all caused strong reactions in the media. Should we be surprised? Is this a rational response? These are three men just doing their job, saying what they have been hired to say, following the company line. They have done nothing inconsistent or unexpected. While the nun was humane and undoubtedly aware of the consequences of her decision, she was effectively willfully breaking her employment contract.
The fable of the scorpion and the frog comes to mind. A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid, but the scorpion reassures him that if he stung the frog, he would drown as well. The frog agrees and half way across the river, the scorpion stings him, and they both start to sink. When the frog asks why, the scorpion says "I'm a scorpion, it's my nature."
The Catholic Church is a competitive, hierarchical and deeply conservative organisation. Anyone with ambition is not going to speak out against company policy if he wants to rise up the ranks. While a parish priest with no ambition or talent for politics can turn a blind eye, any careerist cleric will follow what the men higher up the hierarchy say and do while waiting for a chance to replace them (if it is God's will, of course...). You don't get to be Pope by rocking the boat when it comes to issues like sexuality and female reproduction.
It is not rational to expect them to act otherwise. All the evidence from the past points to them behaving like this again. It's kind of a reproducible experiment.
The news is not that the Catholic Church, yet again, has done exactly what it says on the tin, but that Sister McBride put humanity before dogma.
In case this seems like an isolated case, one in six hospital beds in the US is in a Catholic institution.