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Catholic Bishops Clarify Abortion Definitions in Light of Ariz. Case

Catholic Bishops Clarify Abortion Definitions in Light of Ariz. Case

June 28, 2010 — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine released a statement last week clarifying how the church classifies direct abortions and indirect abortions, the Arizona Republic reports.

The statement refers to a recent case in which Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator at a Catholic hospital in Arizona, was excommunicated for her role in authorizing an abortion to save a woman's life. The statement did not review the particulars of the case or take a position on the excommunication; instead, it said USCCB wanted to clarify "confusion" about the church's stance on abortion.

According to the Republic, the church condemns direct abortion -- meant to terminate a pregnancy -- but permits indirect abortion -- in which fetal death is a secondary effect of another necessary procedure -- in some cases, such as a hysterectomy to treat uterine cancer. "As the church has said many times, direct abortion is never permissible because a good end cannot justify an evil means," the statement said, adding, "There are no situations in which it can be justified."

The statement "appears to confirm" the Phoenix bishop's classification of the Arizona case as a direct abortion, the Republic reports (Clancy, Arizona Republic, 6/25). In the case, the young mother of four was 11 weeks pregnant and had pulmonary hypertension, a rare condition in which continuing the pregnancy often jeopardizes the life of the woman. Physicians concluded that the placenta had to be removed to prevent the patient from dying (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/9).