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Abortion and Excommunication: An E-Z Cartoon Lesson 4 Kidz

5 years ago
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"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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It has been my understanding that Cannon Law, at least in recent decades, allows for abortion is the mother's life is in danger. This seems fair, no one can ask someone to lose their life in that scenario. At the same time, mothers who have chosen to give their life for their child are honored and in some instances granted sainthood. I does strike me that this story seems to be receiving disproportionate attention. Am I a little paranoid in presuming that those who would okay abortion in all instances wish to highlight extreme cases, which are very rare, to suit their larger goal? That said, the Church's position should be clarified, is not abortion considered tragic but acceptable when two lives hang in the balance?

June 25 2010 at 3:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Where does invitro fertilization come in? If 6-12 eggs are fertilized but not all implanted or some are discarded, is this an excommunication activity? Does any conception control fit this category? That would include the use of medicines, surgery and barriers. Short of being celibate any engagement thwarting the opportunity to procreate might be considered an excommunication situation! What about people too old to have children? Is the act of attempted procreation merely an act of lust and thus a possible excommunicatable offense? But then as the bible goes on to say, be fruitful and multiply, celibacy might just be a direct offense to the word of God as spoken through the bible and therefore a possible excommunicatable offense. Sounds to me time to find a religion or faith more non threatening. Vote with your feet. Organized religion needs you, not necessarily the other way around. God loves us all regardless of if we belong to an organized religion or not.

June 25 2010 at 5:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wonder if there are really thoughtful rc bishops left? The present ones are theocons who not only present a threat in their authoritarianism to catholics,, but in seeking to enshrine their dogmas into law they undermine the pluralistic society and abuse the separation between church and state of which they are disdainful yet which ironically has allowed the catholic church to flourish.

June 24 2010 at 9:57 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Religion needs you to survive. Don't risk excommunication, merely vote with your feet and go to a church (if you want that community) that meets your needs. You are not on this earth to meet some organized religions needs. The organization is here to serve you. If they want to excommunicate you, do it first and vote with your feet.

We spend more time investigating what features a prospective new car offers than the religion we follow yet we sink more resources into the religion. The bible is moot and never say's thou shalt not use your brains. Neither does the Quran or most scholarly religious texts. While it does say be fruitful an multiply it does not say multiply sufficiently to overburden your environment! If fruitful and multiply was its edict, then why do clergy practice celebacy? Clear violation of the fruitful an multiply protocols. Kind of hipocrasy, if you think about it.

June 24 2010 at 9:53 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The key word is "automatic". Nuff said!

June 24 2010 at 9:41 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I had a theraputic abortion, twin pregnancy @ 9 weeks gestational age. Twin B already compromised, Bp was out of control, had been for 1 month, kidneys atarted to fail, ect My MD gave me and my husband the dignity to weigh the pros and cons, utilize pastorial support, good counciling made available to me in the hospital. Dr finally needed a decision, we terminated. MD said my body was already rejecting the pregnancy so the surgical termination just completed it. Not every pregnancy creates a living child. I have no regrets but would've loved a different choice, I'm grateful I'm alive to ponder this.

June 24 2010 at 8:30 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

The decision should be between God and the woman.

June 24 2010 at 7:29 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I dont get what the big deal is. The church has always put the child's life ahead of the mother's.

June 24 2010 at 6:37 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

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