"Chalk talks" have long been a favorite method for Sunday school teachers to illustrate a Bible story, as alumni of the pre-Power Point days of religious education will recall.
But can the same blackboard method work to explain the complexities of abortion and excommunication in the Roman Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law? Not to mention the ethical principle of the double-effect? The American Life League thinks so.
The ALL's nifty video explainer below stems from the case of the nun at a Phoenix hospital who was declared excommunicated last month by the local bishop for agreeing to allow an abortion to be performed on a woman at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted's announcement prompted a tremendous amount of debate across the blogosphere, and a great deal of thoughtful analysis of the complex moral and ethical quandaries faced by Sister Margaret McBride and the other hospital administrators.
Here is the dilemma they faced: A 27-year-old woman who was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child was admitted to the hospital last November because the pregnancy was causing severe health problems for the woman, who suffers from pulmonary hypertension. Doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of death was close to 100 percent -- and the baby would die as well.
So the ethics board of the Catholic hospital, which included Sister McBride, deliberated with the woman and her doctors and decided this was an exception to the the code of Catholic health care directives that govern hospital ethics and care. An abortion was performed and the woman survived.
Last month, after Bishop Olmsted found out about the hospital's actions, he declared that Sister McBride -- along with any other Catholic involved in the decision, including the patient -- were automatically excommunicated.
Cue the controversy. But also, unexpectedly, some deeper thinking, as in articles in America magazine, the Jesuit weekly; in National Catholic Reporter; and at the blog of Commonweal magazine (where I also post). An in-depth piece at USA Today also explains how the procedure performed was actually a morally licit (under traditional Catholic teaching) "indirect abortion" because it targeted the placenta and so techincally led indirectly -- though inevitably -- to the death of the fetus.
Complex, heart-rending stuff, for all concerned,
Yet some saw the whole issue in simpler, or one might even say, simplistic, terms. The ALL's video was certainly one of the most straightforward and indeed graphic interpretations of the episode, and the sacramental fate of Sister McBride. The video was helpfully edited down to a manageable size by an editor at Commonweal, Grant Gallicho, who posted it at the magazine's blog. Best bits at the end:
PS: For those interested in a more extended take on the principles involved, Catholic News Service reports on a new statement on the question of "direct abortion" from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some see that statement as indirect support of Bishop Olmsted, though others suggest that the bishops were simply trying to clarify the somewhat complex difference between a direct abortion and an indirect abortion -- the latter apparently the case in Phoenix. At least the bishops didn't resort to a video presentation.
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