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Catholic affiliation stripped from hospital

After an abortion is performed to save a mother's life, the bishop of Phoenix says, 'This hospital cannot be considered Catholic.'

December 21, 2010|By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

The Roman Catholic bishop of Phoenix stripped a hospital of its Catholic affiliation Tuesday for performing an abortion last year that doctors said was needed to save the life of the mother.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted said he no longer had confidence that the administration of St. Joseph's Hospital would run it according to Catholic teachings, "and therefore this hospital cannot be considered Catholic."


FOR THE RECORD:
Catholic hospital abortion: An article in the Dec. 22 Section A about a dispute over an abortion at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix identified Jenn Giroux as executive director of Human Life International. She is executive director of HLI America, the U.S. arm of Human Life International. —

Leaders of the institution, founded in 1895 by a Catholic order, the Sisters of Mercy, said it would continue to operate "in the Catholic tradition" but without the official sanction of the church.

"I have hoped and prayed that this day would not come," the bishop was quoted as saying at a Tuesday news conference. "However, the faithful of the diocese have a right to know whether institutions of this importance are indeed Catholic in identity and practice."

The hospital's president, Linda Hunt, said she was "deeply saddened" by Olmsted's decision, adding, "The fact that this situation stems from our decision to save a young woman's life is particularly sad." St. Joseph's is run by San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, which operates more than 40 hospitals and clinics in California, Arizona and Nevada.

The case that led to the break involved an unidentified woman in her 20s, pregnant with her fifth child. Eleven weeks into her pregnancy, in November 2009, she developed such severe symptoms of pulmonary hypertension that physicians said she was almost certain to die without an abortion. Because of the age of the fetus, they said, there was no chance to save the child.

When Olmsted learned of the abortion last May, he announced that a nun involved in the decision, Sister Margaret McBride, had been excommunicated. He said his position was based on his interpretation of a directive by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that prohibited the "direct" taking of a life in an abortion, while allowing for an "indirect" death caused, for example, by surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from the mother's uterus.

In this case, he said, the fetus had been "directly" killed.

"No one has the right to directly kill an innocent life, no matter what stage of their existence," Olmsted said at the time. "It is not better to save one life while murdering another. It is not better that the mother live the rest of her existence having had her child killed."

Patrick McCormick, a professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University who specializes in Catholic medical ethics, said Olmstead's argument ran counter to the views of most prominent Catholic moral theologians.

"How is that better for anybody [if] both the woman and the fetus die, and then you have four orphans and a widower left at home?" he said.

Jenn Giroux, a registered nurse who is executive director of Human Life International, a Catholic organization of "pro-life missionaries," said she believed Olmsted was correct.

"I think it is a trend that we will see more of our Catholic bishops stand by their own documents," she said. "I think it shows incredible leadership and strength."

mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

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