Back on November 5, 2009, an abortion was performed on a 27-year-old pregnant woman who was suffering from pulmonary hypertension in the 11th week of pregnancy at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. The doctors advised this pregnant woman that she would likely die from pulmonary hypertension unless she had an abortion. The termination of this woman’s pregnancy in this abortion case constituted a direct abortion because this pregnancy was directly terminated at a stage where the unborn child is clearly incapable of survival outside of the womb.
Even though the doctors in the Phoenix abortion case advised the pregnant woman to undergo an abortion, there have been cases where pregnant women with pulmonary hypertension successfully carried their pregnancies to term with appropriate medical treatment. Instead of advising her to have an abortion, the doctors should have given her the option of taking anti-hypertensive drugs to lessen the danger to her life and that of her unborn child. Unlike an abortion, which would directly terminate the pregnancy and indirectly target her pulmonary hypertension, the administration of anti-hypertensive drugs would directly target her pulmonary hypertension. If this woman had undergone the alternative option of anti-hypertensive drugs instead of having an abortion, she might have been able to safely carry her pregnancy to term and her unborn child might have been able to survive.
Here is M. Therese Lysaught’s account of the medical condition of the pregnant woman who had an abortion in the Phoenix abortion case: “Due to the age of the fetus, there was no possibility that it could survive outside the womb. Nor, due to the mother’s heart failure and cardiogenic shock, was there any possibility that the fetus could survive inside the womb. In short, in spite of the best efforts of the mother and of her medical staff, the fetus had become terminal, not because of a pathology of its own but because of a pathology in its maternal environment. There was no longer any chance that the life of this child could be saved. This is crucial to note insofar as it establishes that at the point of decision, it was not a case of saving the mother or the child. It was not a matter of choosing one life or the other. The child’s life, because of natural causes, was in the process of ending.”
Even if M. Therese Lysaught’s account of the medical condition of the pregnant woman in the Phoenix abortion case were correct, there were measures other than direct abortion that the doctors could have taken to save the life of the pregnant woman. The doctors could have chosen to allow the baby to die inside of the womb and administer anti-hypertensive drugs to the mother instead of choosing to directly terminate the pregnancy, and this choice might have been morally licit under the circumstances given in Lysaught’s account. There is a moral distinction between a direct abortion and merely permitting the natural death of an unborn child inside of the womb. A direct abortion is always intrinsically evil and never morally justifiable, but merely permitting the natural death of an unborn child who is naturally dying is not always morally illicit and can be morally justified in some circumstances.
Even if Lysaught’s account of the circumstances were correct, the circumstances would not have justified a direct abortion. Instead of advising St. Joseph’s Hospital of Phoenix that the abortion is indirect, she should have upheld that directly terminating the pregnancy in this case still constitutes a direct abortion until the pregnancy reaches the point of viability. Additionally, she should have advised the doctors to take other reasonable measures to preserve the life of the pregnant woman, such as the administration of anti-hypertensive drugs.
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix was correct in stating that the abortion in the Phoenix abortion case constitutes a direct abortion. His analysis is correct, even if he did not have full knowledge of all of the medical facts of the Phoenix abortion case, since his analysis is based on Catholic Church teachings and laws of God which are always applicable in every circumstance. Bishop Thomas Olmsted did not need full knowledge of the medical facts to declare that the abortion in the Phoenix abortion case constitutes a direct abortion since a direct abortion always has the evil moral object of causing the death of an unborn child and is always intrinsically evil, regardless of the intention behind the abortion or the specific circumstances of the abortion.
Here are some links to articles regarding the Phoenix abortion case:
- USCCB committee explains direct abortion, legitimate medical procedure
- Phoenix Catholic Hospital Questioned Over Abortion to Save Mother’s Live
- The Phoenix Abortion Case: M. Therese Lysaught’s grave doctrinal error
- Two physician/ethicists comment on Phoenix abortion case
- Catholic Healthcare West: Bishop decrees St. Joseph, Phoenix, no longer Catholic