Earlier this year, Sister Margaret McBride, a nun and hospital administrator in Phoenix, Arizona, was excommunicated for allowing an abortion to be performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, a Catholic hospital. Now, St. Joseph’s has been stripped of its Catholic status.
The patient, a mother of four in her late 20s, was eleven weeks pregnant when she was admitted to St. Joseph’s. She was suffering from severe pulmonary hypertension, and her doctors feared that, if the woman continued with the pregnancy, the illness could be fatal. The woman agreed to the abortion, and Sister McBride, a member of the hospital’s ethics board, approved the procedure.
In a statement defending the Church’s actions, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, of Phoenix’s Roman Catholic Diocese, alluded to other “violations” that have occurred at other hospitals run by Catholic Healthcare West, which owns St. Joseph’s. In particular, Olmsted mentioned hospitals which provided contraception, performed sterilizations, and did abortions when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or due to the physical or mental health of the woman.
The ACLU has asked federal health officials to ensure that pregnant women can receive emergency reproductive care at Catholic hospitals. They are not the only organization to express concern over this issue; as secular-religious hospital mergers have become more prevalent, reproductive rights advocates have become increasingly concerned that patients at these hospitals may not have access to the full range of health care they deserve. MergerWatch has a wealth of information about the threats that women and healthcare providers face in light of these mergers, and is a great resource to learn more about the issue.
As for St. Joseph’s, they have handled these most recent actions with grace and determination. As their hospital president, Linda Hunt, said in a statement after her hospital lost its status:
“[I]f we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients … If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case. We continue to stand by that decision. . . . Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”
This post originally appeared on generationroe.blogspot.com.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.