Apparently, a woman in her late 20s and 11 weeks pregnant was admitted to a Catholic Hospital in Arizona (which seems to be the epicenter of the controversy universe these days) with pulmonary hypertension. We know that she was advised to abort the pregnancy and that this advice was put before the ethics committee person on call, Sister Margaret McBride. As NPR or MSNBC tell it, Sister McBride held the power of life or death in her hands and decided that she could ethically approve the abortion citing the U.S. Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services directive #47
Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.
while stepping over #45
So word gets leaked to the press and Sister McBride is demoted (although I'm not sure if that was before or after the story hit) and the bishop is asked for a statement, which he doesn't give until the hospital decides to give one.
Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo. Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers
Then of course the bishop is in a damned if you do/damned if you don't situation but of course the headlines at places like CafeMom and NPR run along the lines of, "The Big Mean Bishop wants to kill women so that more babies can be born for pedophile priests and Sister McBride is a hero." or something like that.
What you won't find in those articles are any explanation of what mortal sin or excommunication really are, or a truer more thorough teaching of what Catholic teaching really is or what canon law really says. You will find a lot of drama and emotion, especially in the NPR piece.
And yet, there are some more balanced pieces out there. The National Catholic Register has a good piece by Jimmy Akin about what was known and about the actions of the bishop.
My guess is that what happened here is that the Bishop wanted to deal with these matters privately, but someone at the hospital tipped the press, which then asked both the Bishop and the hospital about the matter. When the hospital confirmed, the Bishop felt obliged to respond as well, but of a desire to protect the reputations/privacy of those involved, he responded only in general terms, acknowledging that an abortion had taken place, that he was horrified by this, and explaining the Church’s position on such matters.
Scarcely the “Cruel Bishop vs. Victim Nun” narrative. No thundering public denunciations of Sr. McBride; no attempts to publicly shame her—quite the opposite!
One might hold that only the woman who has an abortion and/or the one who pays for or arranges for it “procures” it, but canon 1329 makes it clear that the penalty of automatic excommunication also applies to accomplices “if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed.”This article at First Things also delves deeply in the theology of the situation. The comments are worth reading as well. I found this one by Chuck particularly good:
So one can either argue that by voting to approve the abortion Sr. McBride fell under the provision of “procuring” the abortion or that she functioned as a necessary accomplice under the provision of canon 1329 §2.
In either case, she would have incurred automatic excommunication.
Thus Bishop Olmstead would have been simply doing his pastoral duty of informing her of the fact that she had excommunicated herself and needed to take steps to reconcile with the Church.
So many people are making the incorrect assumption that this woman would have certainly died without the abortion. This is not correct, and no one, not even the doctors and ethicists involved in the case, could know such a thing.
I have seen cases where doctors make serious prenatal mistakes in judgment, and then call for "termination of the pregnancy" based upon those faulty judgments. In some of those cases, the mother and father decided against the will of the doctors, and their baby was born perfectly healthy - even though the doctors warned that the baby would be born with serious or life-threatening deformities.
There is another article on this site that references a doctor in Wisconsin that has a 100% success rate treating the issue this woman suffered with. That is enough to show that it was NOT certain that this mother, or her baby, would have died without the abortion.
I agree that it is a difficult issue, but life is full of difficult issues, and when they arise, we must grapple with them. Catholics, and Christians of all stripes, should not be siding with the secularists who are denouncing the decision of the Bishop. We should put out thinking caps on and try to understand the philosophical and moral position of the Church on this matter. If we cannot understand it, we should give those in authority over us the benefit of the doubt until we can come to a better understanding.