Abortion Fetal anomolies and disabilities Religious views Women's health

Bishop Olmstead, Abortion, and Excommunication

On the Mirror of Justice blog, see, Michael Perry links to a story about Bishop Olmstead, who informed a Catholic nun that she had incurred the canonical penalty of excommunication for her role in approving an abortion.  I don’t intend to enter into the canon law aspects of the case.

The underlying moral issue is, though, of utmost importance. The Catholic nun, Sister Margaret McBride, approved the abortion on the grounds that the abortion was necessary to save the life of the mother. There is some doubt about whether this was in fact the case but assuming that this were true, what do folks think of the moral issue?

In my view, the abortion here (even under Sister McBride’s understanding of the facts) violated the moral principle that one may not directly intend to take the life of an innocent human being. That principle holds even when there is a good reason (eg., saving the life of another) for such an act. When the basic moral principle is undermined, we are, as John Finnis noted some years ago, all in jeopardy. For our own life would then depend on someone thinking that no greater good would be accomplished or greater evil avoided by killing us. (For a discussion of this point in the context of assisted suicide, see

Richard M.

Richard Myers

Richard S. Myers, the Vice-President of UFL, is Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law, where he teaches Antitrust, Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, and Religious Freedom. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Kenyon College and earned his law degree at Notre Dame, where he won the law school's highest academic prize. He began his legal career by clerking for Judge John F. Kilkenny of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Professor Myers also worked for Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue in Washington, D.C. He taught at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law before joining the Ave Maria faculty. He is a co-editor of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (Catholic University of American Press, 2004) and a co-editor of Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy (Scarecrow Press, 2007). He has also published extensively on constitutional law in law reviews and also testified before Congressional and state legislative hearings on life issues. Married to Mollie Murphy, who is also on the faculty at Ave Maria School of Law, they are the proud parents of six children - Michael, Patrick, Clare, Kathleen, Matthew, and Andrew.