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Ariz. Hospital May Lose Catholic Status Over 2009 Abortion Case

Ariz. Hospital May Lose Catholic Status Over 2009 Abortion Case

December 16, 2010 — St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz., will be stripped of its Catholic status on Friday unless Catholic Healthcare West meets several demands outlined in a Nov. 22 letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted, the Arizona Republic reports (Clancy, Arizona Republic, 12/15).

The issue stems from the 2009 decision by the hospital to authorize an abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman. The woman, who already had four children, was 11 weeks pregnant and had pulmonary hypertension, a rare condition in which continuing the pregnancy often jeopardizes the life of the woman. Physicians concluded that the placenta had to be removed to prevent the patient from dying. The Catholic Church condemns direct abortion -- meant to terminate a pregnancy -- but permits indirect abortion in which fetal death is a secondary effect of another necessary procedure (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/28).

According to the Republic, the hospital said the procedure was similar to removing a cancerous uterus, which is permissible by the church, rather than a standard abortion. However, Olmsted condemned the procedure as an abortion and excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride, the St. Joseph's vice president who authorized the procedure.

Olmsted said that two months of discussions between the hospital and church leaders failed to resolve the question over whether the procedure was permissible by the church. In a November 22 letter to CHW President Lloyd Dean, Olmsted wrote that St. Joseph's hospital would need to meet several demands before the hospital could regain his support, including submitting to a diocesan review and certification "to ensure full compliance" with the Catholic Church's moral teachings. The certification would be similar to the accreditations that other hospitals receive, Olmsted said. CHW also must agree to provide its medical staff with ongoing training on the church's ethical and religious directives regarding indirect abortions. Finally, CHW must acknowledge that Olmsted correctly described the 2009 procedure as an abortion and St. Joseph's hospital misinterpreted the church's directive on indirect abortion.

Olmsted wrote that CHW's "actions communicate to me that [the hospital does] not respect my authority to authentically teach and interpret moral law in this diocese." He added, "Because of this, I must act now" to ensure that "no further such violations" take place at the hospital and to "repair the grave scandal to the Christian faithful that has resulted from the procedure." Olmsted wrote, "There cannot be a tie in this debate," adding, "The irony of our present state of affairs is that an organization that identifies itself as 'Catholic' is operating a hospital in my diocese that does not abide" by the directives (Arizona Republic, 12/15).