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USCCB, Abortion and the Excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride

In the wake of the automatic excommunication” of Sister Margaret McBride, a nun who was part of a committee that granted an abortion to a woman whose pregnancy threatened her life, theologians are splitting hairs over excommunication, intention, and conscience. In order to clear things up, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a statement articulating the difference between “direct” and “indirect” abortion.

Direct abortion is a “procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy,” including when the mother’s life is in danger.

Of course, there’s another effect, which is that the mother’s life is saved. Perhaps it’s not immediate enough?

Indirect abortion happens as follows:

"Operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman” that “cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable” and may “result in the death of the unborn child.”

The second is okay by the Church; the first, no.

Are you confused? If so, it’s because there is NO SUBSTANTIVE DIFFERENCE between these two scenarios. In order for a woman to live, her pregnancy must end.

The USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine provides these helpful examples:

The first involves a pregnant woman who is experiencing problems with one or more of her organs, apparently because of the added burden of pregnancy. In this case, the doctor recommends an abortion to protect the woman's health.

In the second example, a pregnant woman develops cancer in her uterus. In this case, the doctor recommends surgery to remove the cancerous uterus as the only way to prevent the cancer from spreading. Removing the uterus also will result in the death of the unborn child.

The only difference I see in these cases is that in case two, the fetus is hidden away in the uterus, so the doctors removing it can pretend it’s not there.

And thus it is that a rich theological tradition is reduced to garbage. And unfortunately, this reasoning, reminiscent of “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?,” is medical policy.

The USCCB has not had a good year. But, as Nicholas Kristof pointed out at least it didn’t have to excommunicate any child molesters


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