I was born at a St. Joseph’s hospital in New England, but brought up in a Protestant home. As a young girl I remember being told to be sure never to make the mistake of having a baby in a Catholic hospital, because they would let the woman die in order to save the baby. Even all those years ago I could not make sense of a religion that claims to be pro-life, yet would not protect the life of a living woman, someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s beloved partner.
Recently at another St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, a 27 year-old pregnant woman became extremely ill. An ethics panel at the hospital gave permission for the 11-week pregnant woman to have a lifesaving abortion. Sister Margaret McBride was part of the hospital’s ethics panel. Though she made no individual statements about her views on choice, it appears that she supported the decision of the panel. For this act of conscience the bishop of Phoenix has announced that Sister McBride was subject to ‘automatic excommunication.’
All over this country, women depend on Catholic hospitals for their healthcare because that is all that is available in their community. They cannot imagine that their lives will be in jeopardy because of the rules of a church in which women have no moral authority. They do not agree to be treated as less than full human beings. We cannot accept a situation in which those who run Catholic hospitals are allowed to treat Catholics and non-Catholics alike with flagrant disregard for the most basic of human rights. Health care must not be an opportunity to hold people hostage to the canons of a church that cannot even persuade its own members to obey. Yet our tax dollars help support these institutions. What is our recourse?
Sister McBride deserves our gratitude for risking her own job and her place in the church to listen to her conscience. It is extraordinary and appalling that her willingness to take a stand for another woman’s very life merits excommunication. Just as appalling is the fact that public policy in the United States is still heavily influenced by the men who lobby on behalf of this archaic and misogynistic religion, witness the recent debacle over healthcare.
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I now live outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the only hospital in the area has recently been taken over by the Catholic Church. At another time it could have been me whose life was held in the hands of strangers–my life to save or waste according to the beliefs of people not even required to observe the hard won laws and freedoms of our country. Even now I still cannot make sense of a religion that claims to be pro-life yet would not protect the life of a living woman—someone’s mother—someone’s daughter—someone’s beloved partner.