Sister Margaret McBride was a Catholic nun and a hospital administrator in Phoenix, Arizona. McBride has been excommunicated by Bishop Thomas Olmsted, after she agreed with a hospital ethics committee that an 11-week-old pregnancy needed to be terminated in order save a woman's life.
The Bishop said McBride was "automatically excommunicated"; she has also been demoted professionally.
The patient (often referred to in news stories as "the mother") was a 27-year-old woman with a rare, often fatal condition in which pregnancy can lead to death. Although she was being treated at a Catholic hospital, doctors and administrators there applied compassion and common sense, and approved the termination.
Catholics for Choice calls the decision to excommunicate McBride "very troubling".
While not all the facts are available, it is clear that the Vatican’s hard line on abortion led to this terrible situation. Sadly, we see situations like this time after time, both here in the US and abroad. The Vatican’s outright ban on all abortions is insensitive and reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of women’s lives, including the difficult decisions that often have to be made during a pregnancy.
It is also unclear whether Sister McBride in fact met the criteria for an “automatic” excommunication. A Catholics for Choice publication, Notes on Canon Law No. 1, outlines the conditions that need to be met, according to the Catholic church’s law.
It is not immediately clear why Sister McBride’s counsel was sought in this matter, but it is heartening to know that despite the Vatican’s opposition to all abortion, local staff at a Catholic hospital made a conscientious and compassionate decision to save this woman’s life.
Reasonable Catholics the world over acknowledge that access to abortion is sometimes necessary, and our polling and that of other organizations shows that a large majority of Catholics reject the Vatican’s outright ban on all abortions.
Catholics for Choice also believes that the Phoenix Bishop misrepresented Catholic doctrine when it said the nun had to be "automatically excommunicated" - that through her actions, she excommunicated herself.
That, however, is for Catholics to discuss and decide. I can only thank Sister McBride and the others at Phoenix's St. Joseph's Hospital for understanding that a 27-year-old's woman life is a human life and cannot be exchanged for an 11-week old fetus that is only the potential of human life, but not a human yet.
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I have known only two nuns in my life. Both dedicated themselves to lives of service, usually in opposition to the male-dominated powers around them. One was a colleague of mine when I taught young people who had dropped out of school. She was a model teacher of people most teachers fear and avoid, and I learned a lot from her. The other sat beside me on panels where we spoke about our experiences of rape and recovery. As a victim of violent crime, she also campaigned doggedly against the death penalty.
My experiences with these two women taught me that nuns can be feminists, too. And the Vatican will punish them for it. (Thanks to James for this link.)
Catholics for Choice