When faced with the decision to let a pregnant woman either have an abortion or likely die, a nun at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix opted to allow the abortion. The nun, Sister Margaret McBride, was then excommunicated. The incident took place last fall at the St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, and the decision to get rid of McBride—a former hospital administrator and diocese liaison—has drawn battle lines within the church and raised larger questions about the organization's ethics. After doctors determined that the woman's "risk of mortality was 'close to 100 percent' " if she were to have the baby, McBride decided to allow the abortion under a special church ethics exception that "allows, in some circumstance, procedures that could kill the fetus to save the mother." After hearing of the news, the Phoenix Diocese ruled that it had no choice but to excommunicate her, explaining that McBride, who was acting as the "moral conscience of the hospital," "gave her consent that the abortion was a morally good and allowable act according to Church teaching." Some canon lawyers disagree, arguing that the church should be lenient in extreme situations and that a double standard is at work in cases of abuse and abortion. Defending the decision to the Catholic News Agency, National Catholic Bioethics Center President John Haas referenced a Gilbert and Sullivan musical in which a character "applies the death penalty for increasingly trivial offenses." "It's a parody," Haas said "but it just points out that you can't breach the moral law."
Credits: Slate Magazine