History of Abortion Teaching Is Complex

Article excerpt

Arizona has been in the news lately because of the passage of an immigration law that many accuse of fostering racial profiling.

However, there is another Arizona case that has gained national attention, especially in Catholic circles. And that is the excommunication of Mercy Sr. Margaret Mary McBride, vice president of mission integration at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

McBride was declared automatically excommunicated by Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted for her part in approving an abortion in 2009. She had served on a hospital ethics committee that had considered the case of a pregnant woman who, without an abortion, would die alongside the fetus.

The bishop cited Directive 45 of the fifth edition of the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services," approved by the U.S. Catholic bishops late in 2009. Directive 45 states: "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 a pregnancy before viability is an abortion."

The directive repeats the teaching of Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae ("The Gospel of Life"): "I declare that direct abortion, that is abortion intended as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being."

"This teaching is clear," writes Fr. Charles Curran, the leading Catholic moral theologian in the United States and one of the church's most distinguished moral theologians worldwide.

"A direct abortion is always wrong, whereas an indirect abortion," he adds, "can be permitted for a proportionate reason." Curran's commentary appears, in the June 5 issue of The Tablet, published in London.

In the Phoenix case, both mother and fetus would have died if nothing had been done to save the life of the mother. "According to the hierarchical Catholic teaching," Curran acknowledges, "you can never directly take one life in order to save another. You can never do a moral evil in order to achieve a good end. Catholics are not utilitarians."

And yet indirect abortions are permitted under particular circumstances, for example, in the removal of a pregnant, cancerous uterus. The action is aimed at the removal of the uterus, not the killing of the fetus that happens to be inside the uterus. …