The case of the bishop, an abortion and an excommunicated nun

The terrible story of the death of Savita Halappanavar has brought the always sensitive and polarizing issue of abortion to the forefront of the political debate in Ireland today. Mick has a short round up of how the case is being reported in the Irish media today.

The case brought to my mind an explosive row that broke out a couple of years ago at the hospital of my birth in Phoenix: Arizona’s largest hospital, St Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. The case centred on a termination, performed in November 2009 at the hospital. In May 2010, Mercy Sister Margaret Mary McBride was excommunicated by Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, after she had approved the decision to abort the child of a gravely ill woman. Sr. McBride, a member of the hospital’s ethics committee, had acted following medical advice stating that the prospect of the mother dying was close to 100% if she continued with the pregnancy:

The case concerned an unidentified woman in her 20s, who had a history of abnormally high blood pressure that was under control before she became pregnant. But doctors were concerned on learning of the pregnancy about the extra burden that would be placed on her heart, and they monitored her closely.

Tests showed that in the early stages of pregnancy her condition deteriorated rapidly and that before long her pulmonary hypertension – which can impair the working of the heart and lungs – had begun to seriously threaten her life. Doctors informed her that the risk of death was close to 100% if she continued with the pregnancy.

Consultations were then held with the patient, her family, her doctors and the hospital’s ethics team, and the decision to go ahead with an abortion was taken in order to save the mother’s life.

Bishop Olmsted objected to the determination reached by Sr McBride because the abortion was initiated to ease the mother’s medical health difficulties.

“The baby was healthy and there was no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St Joseph’s decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the church.” (Bishop Olmsted)

From the Catholic Herald:

Officials at Catholic Healthcare West, a San Francisco-based health system, said in a letter to Bishop Olmsted: “If there had been a way to save the pregnancy and still prevent the death of the mother, we would have done it. We are convinced there was not.” But the bishop said that “the direct killing of an unborn child is always immoral, no matter the circumstances, and it cannot be permitted in any institution that claims to be authentically Catholic”. “We always must remember that when a difficult medical situation involves a pregnant woman, there are two patients in need of treatment and care, not merely one,” Bishop Olmsted said. “The unborn child’s life is just as sacred as the mother’s life, and neither life can be preferred over the other.”

In December 2010, Olmsted stripped St Joseph’s of its catholic affiliation, breaking a 115 year relationship with the hospital originally founded by The Sisters of Mercy in 1895.

Of course, there were two significant differences between the St Joseph’s case and that of Savita: Firstly- and most importantly-in the former, the life of the unknown mother to be was preserved and, secondly, there was never any doubt that the hospital authorities and doctors could act accordingly without fear of breaking the law of the land- if not of the Church.




  • aquifer

    So the child’s life counts for more than the mother’s.

    Because there is a 50% chance it is a boy?

    In the future collection plate?

    One way to pay those USA child abuse court awards.

  • The Raven

    Chris, I have to give it to you. That is one very sad and depressing read.

  • Alias

    “Of course, there were two significant differences between the St Joseph’s case and that of Savita: Firstly- and most importantly-in the former, the life of the unknown mother to be was preserved and, secondly, there was never any doubt that the hospital authorities and doctors could act accordingly without fear of breaking the law of the land- if not of the Church.”

    Exactly, which is why an abortion in the case of Ms Savita Halappanavar would not have contravened Catholic doctine but would, in fact, have been required by it.

    However, the media and others with an agenda have not let the facts get in the way of a “Priest-ridden Ireland Murders Innocent Mother” story.

    That isn’t to argue that the Church’s ‘parity of esteem’ between the life of the mother and the life of the child won’t see it get into conflict with an alternative doctrine which holds that the life of the mother takes precedence over the life of the child – as in the example you cited.

    Where doctors do object to a particular medical practice on matters of conscience – and not simply on the limits of abortion – they will exempt themselves from making those determinations for that patient.

    So, this insidious claim that the doctor didn’t exempt himself and thereby didn’t act according to medical guidance, law, and the best interests of the patient but rather imposed Catholic doctrine has indeed backfired badly given that Catholic doctrine would require him to save the life of the mother where the life of the child cannot be saved.

  • Alias

    In case that point about how ‘parity of esteem’ (the mother and the child’s equal right to life) is mitigated by ‘double effect’ is still lost on some, the Vatican gives some clarity on it:

    “Deliberately We have always used the expression ‘direct attempt on the life of an innocent person,’ ‘direct killing.’ Because if, for example, the saving of the life of the future mother, independently of her pregnant condition, should urgently require a surgical act or other therapeutic treatment which would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired nor intended, but inevitable, the death of the foetus, such an act could no longer be called a direct attempt on an innocent life. Under these conditions the operation can be lawful, like other similar medical interventions – granted always that a good of high worth is concerned, such as life, and that it is not possible to postpone the operation until after the birth of the child, nor to have recourse to other efficacious remedies.” – Pius XII

    What the Pope was referring to is the principle of double effect – that an act that is ‘evil’ may also be good to some extent if the intent is to do good.

    That is a Pope saying that the Church would approve of abortion in the circumstances that appear to have applied in Ms Halappanavar’s case.

  • You simply can’t win an argument with a senile old fool. And if he’s infallible…..

  • Alias

    “You simply can’t win an argument with a senile old fool.”

    That’s why I stopped arguing with you, Joe. 😉

    “And if he’s infallible…”

    If he’s infallible then his position on the issue cannot be refuted by his successors.

  • “others with an agenda have not let the facts get in the way of a “Priest-ridden Ireland Murders Innocent Mother” story”

    Alias, your hyperbole doesn’t appear to be based on a media title that appears on the internet; it is somewhat similar to the words on a poster outside the Dáil as recounted by Breda O’Brien in the Irish Times:

    A large poster outside the Dáil this week presented this view at its most extreme. “Have the guts to end the Roman Catholic inspired murder of women.”

    As I’ve suggested earlier, it would be better if the respective protagonists calmed down. The early Irish Times reports were much more measured.

  • Alias

    Nevin, here is a headline from the India Times:

    “Ireland murders pregnant Indian dentist”.

    The propaganda has all been from the pro-abortion fanatics on this story, despite your attempt to create the bogus impression that there is ‘parity of disgrace’.

  • To which you have added, ‘priest-ridden’ and ‘innocent’, Alias. Why can’t you both calm down?

  • Alias

    Nevin, I don’t have much patience with trolls. If boredom is causing your irascibility then here’s a little word puzzle to help you pass the time: re-arrange these words into the correct order to find the hidden message – The Door, Your Ass, On The, Hit, Way Out, Don’t Let.

  • Alias, as I’ve just demonstrated, your language was more inflammatory than the Indian paper headline. It’s perhaps hardly surprising that you should then launch a ‘troll’ attack.

  • Alias

    You’ve merely demonstrated that you don’t read much beyond the Ballymena Times:

    Here’s another lurid headline from the India Times:

    Ireland’s Catholic Abortion Laws: How Many More Victims?

    This article is a gem of pro-abortionist caterwauling that compares Ireland to a Third World country and suggests that it is run by the Taliban. It also, rather sublimely, accuses it of being a dictatorship because of a refusal of the government to “respond to people’s wishes” when the ‘people’s wishes’ were clearly expressed in a referendum on the issue.

    Isn’t Ireland a “first world country”? Doesn’t that usually mean governments respond to people’s wishes? Isn’t there a word for countries that base their laws on religion irrespective of common sense and the value of human life… what’s the word: Fundamentalist? Taliban-esque? Third World? So how many more victims will be seen before we see a change?

    Oh, and just in case the government don’t do as the rabid pro-abortionists demand (against the ‘people’s wishes’ as expressed in the referendum), the newspaper makes the threat that pro-abortionists will use violence to get their way:

    “But he [Enda Kenny] has to answer the world before the global protests go violent”

    Gosh, Nevin, they’ll burn our embassies next…

  • “Gosh, Nevin, they’ll burn our embassies next…”

    Alias, I referred to the calm response of the Irish Times and to the reluctant response of the Connacht Tribune; I don’t believe I’ve ever read the Ballymena Times or the India Times. It might help if you stopped trying to attribute sentiments to me that I’ve not articulated ie play the ball.

  • Alias

    It might also help if you read your three previous posts.

    One final point, Nevin, I am neither a member of the media nor an anti-abortionist so your attempt to prove your false claim that the pro-abortionist stooges in the media are equally balanced in number and intensity by their anti-abortionist counterparts by an ad hominem attack on myself is so far off the mark as to be quite pitiful really.

    I’ll leave you with a fine example by said pro-abortionist stooges in the media courtesy of the India Times:

    “But he [Enda Kenny] has to answer the world before the global protests go violent”

    Apparently, sovereignty over such issues must now be derogated to mobs on foreign soil…

    The obvious question in response to such raid pro-abortionists is “are these people mad?” but it is also a rhetorical question.

    If nothing else, your trolling was useful for that…

  • Alias

    Err, anti-abortionists, not pro-abortionists.

  • “It might also help if you read your three previous posts.”

    Alias, you condemned yourself as a troll with your inflammatory language. But do keep rambling on …

  • Alias

    The ball, dear boy, not the man. Remember that maxim? It seems you were spouting it a mere post ago but it slipped your mind already. 😉

  • Alias and spouting 🙂

  • Alias

    I just ordered a can of this on eBay.

  • You apparently have more need of a dictionary: “if boredom is causing your irascibility” 🙂

  • Alias

    Back to the topic, this thread again links abortion to religion with the subtext being that anti-abortionists are religious fanatics and that pro-abortionists as dispassionate scientists. If this were the case then clearly the latter view is preferable in matters of science to the former view.

    The reductionist propaganda value to pro-abortionists of linking abortion and religion is this way is essentially this botched syllogism:

    Anti-abortionists are opposed to abortion because their religion tells them to be.
    Religion has no place in science or medicine and nor should religious views make law in a secular society.
    Therefore, anti-abortionists should be ignored if we want a secular society and abortion should be fully legalised.

    In reality, most people who are opposed to abortion do not base that view on blind observance of religious doctrine. They oppose abortion on ethical grounds, i.e. they support values such as the right to life and they extend that support to the life of the unborn child.

    They may also be religious but not any more likely to follow religious teaching on that issue than they are to follow religious teaching on the issue of selling their worldly goods and distributing the proceeds to the poor. Even if they are religious and base their view on the issue on religious teaching it doesn’t follow that the view of their particular religion is wrong.

    Essentially, there are two doctrines on the issue: the first doctrine holds that the mother’s right to life that precedence over the child’s right to life, and the second doctrine holds that the mother and the child have an equal right to life.

    Both doctrines, pro-abortion and anti-abortion, are moral positions that are based on faith. The key difference between the two doctrines is that pro-abortionists argue that the mother has a right to self-defence and the anti-abortionists argue that the child also has a right to self-defence. With the former position, the mother may act to kill the child if the child threatens her life; and with the second position, the State must act to defend the child from such an attack by the mother.

    That’s really what the debate comes down to. However, the pro-abortionists don’t value debate and so use propaganda, emotional blackmail, personal abuse, threats, etc, to enforce their doctrine over the opposing doctrine.

    That, of course, only applies where self-defence enters the equation. There is another amoral ilk of extreme abortionists who argue that the mother should be allowed by the State to kill the child for whatever reason she sees fit, with the child having no right to life whatsoever.

  • Alias

    Both doctrines, pro-abortion and anti-abortion, are moral positions that are based on faith *(as in neither can be tested).