Nicholas Kristof recently commented on the hospital controversy that took place in Phoenix over the last year. A Catholic hospital, St. Joseph's, performed an abortion on a woman to save her life. The local bishop, Thomas Olsted, objected because Catholic teaching, unlike American constitutional law, does not allow abortion to save the life of the mother. The bishop first excommunicated Sr. Margaret McBride, a nun on the hospital's ethics committee who approved the abortion. Then the bishop removed the hospital's Catholic affiliation so that St. Joseph's is no longer Catholic.
Kristof--under the headline Tussling Over Jesus--focused on the theological aspects of the debate, contrasting the bishop's emphasis on dogma and rules with the hospital's espousal of compassion and mercy. He and others cited in the article anticipate a moment of change in the church when rank and file Catholics may finally confront the hierarchy over its rigid dogma.
What Kristof doesn't say is that the American bishops continue to be deeply involved in restricting women's right to abortion in religious and non-religious settings around the country. They opposed the health care bill last year because of concerns that insurance companies would fund abortions. Although the bishops are not supporting Republican calls to repeal the entire health care bill, recently they urged Congress to take up two bills introduced last year that they believe would ensure the new health care bill maintains longstanding prohibitions on federal funding of abortion and bolsters conscience rights for health care workers.
In reality all the Catholic bishops are like Olsted. They are opposed even to a non-Catholic woman's right to have an abortion in a non-Catholic hospital when her life is at stake. By taking on insurance and the health care legislation, they strive to cut back abortion everywhere, not just in Catholic hospitals.
The bishops' commitment to conscience clauses is even more dangerous to women's rights. Conscience clauses mean that a woman whose life was endangered by a pregnancy could show up at a secular hospital and still encounter a doctor who refuses to help her....because he follows his conscience instead of her need and her right.
Unfortunately the whole health care system is tussling over Jesus and using him to block women's rights.