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Going to Extremes

May 21, 2010

I was shocked to read a nun was excommunicated for agreeing to provide a woman with a life saving abortion. This story captivated me more than any other this past week. (Yes, even more than the constant commentaries about Elena Kagan or the multiple politicians behaving badly.)

I am not catholic. But, I was born in a catholic hospital, raised catholic, and graduated from a catholic college. My mother and my grandmothers could accurately be described as “devout.” My youth was filled with rosaries, catechism, no meat Fridays, and books about the lives of the saints – books that I devoured with a passion most girls reserve for Nancy Drew mysteries.  Mass wasn’t just for Sundays; one of my grandmothers would go every morning and I would often go with her.  If my grandmothers were alive today, I wonder what they would think about this nun, her actions, and the Rev. John Ehrich’s statement to National Public Radio that “there are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child.” 

I read, in more than a few stories, that in Bishop Olmstead’s defense of this excommunication he said “the Catholic Church will continue to defend life and proclaim the evil of abortion without compromise…”

Reading his words my shock turns to anger and frustration.

Commentators are asking if catholic hospitals are safe for women. They are going on about medical ethics and the boundaries of religious liberties in the delivery of health care services.  It’s an important discussion but, maybe it’s time to stop just talking about whether or not catholic hospitals are safe for women.

Bioethicist Jacob Appel, on the Huffington Post, points out that this case signals the drawing of a new line, writing:

“Even the Catholic Church, whose official doctrine demands that women be sacrificed in order to preserve fetal life, has for many years made no attempt to impose such a draconian policy upon its vast network of hospitals in the United States. Until last week.”

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, “615 Catholic hospitals account for 12.5% of community hospitals in the United States, and over 15.5% of all U.S. hospital admissions.” There are catholic health care systems and hospitals in all 50 states.

Catholic hospitals play too big a role in our health care system for us to continue to accept that: (1) although they hold themselves out as “serving the entire community,” they are free to ignore the wishes and religious beliefs of the non-catholic community members who come through their doors; and (2) although catholic hospitals are bound by federal law to provide life saving care, some of their own directives state that an abortion is never permitted, even to save the life of the mother.

Clearly catholic hospitals aren’t safe for women, so let’s do something about it.

First, we’ve got to stop putting up with the idea that women have to accept the risk or go to a different hospital.  It’s simply not good enough for anyone – especially a politician – to tell women “it’s just a short ride to another hospital.” 

Then we’ve got to do something bold –we’ve got to find the member of congress who will  take taxpayer funding away from catholic hospitals unless they agree to provide all necessary life saving care for pregnant women, including life saving abortion care.  Our taxes subsidize Catholic hospitals through Medicaid, Medicare, and so on.   Maybe we can call it the reverse Hyde Amendment.”   If we can’t stop the flow of tax dollars then perhaps we need to get the catholic church out of the health care business (or at least out of the emergency care for pregnant women business).

What are we going to do to make sure a pregnant woman doesn’t die for someone else’s religious beliefs? 

My grandmothers, both Italian immigrants, didn’t talk about sex.  We certainly didn’t discuss abortion.  But I know in my heart, they would never let a woman die.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy Ulness permalink
    May 22, 2010 4:03 am

    Did you read this? A little nine-year-old girl in Brazil is raped by her stepfather and ends up pregnant with twins!! and has a life-saving abortion and the mother and doctors are all excommunicated. Oh, but not the rapist father in law. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools for a while and the church completely sickens me.

  2. Mary Ellen Jones permalink
    May 27, 2010 10:37 pm

    Lisa, bravo for taking this on so boldly!!! I’m an ex-Catholic and refuse to support a church that allows pedophiles to continue to be exposed to children and are shipped from parish to parish with a smack on the wrists. And to hear this nun be excommunicated for saving the life of a mother in lieu of an 11 week old fetus – not viable outside the uterus at that stage – is absolutely disgusting. The Catholic Church has no business in the arena of health care except to give last rights and communion when requested. I am aghast at the thinking behind letting a mother die to save an 11 week old fetus – not viable without its mother….


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