In November of 2009 Sister Margaret McBride was fired and excommunicated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. As a member of the ethics board at St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix, McBride had authorized an abortion to save the life of a 27 year old mother of four.  The young mother survived.  In May of this year when the story was broken by The Arizona Republic, a local newspaper, Olmsted stated about his decision, “An unborn child is not a disease … the end does not justify the means,” “the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld,” and “the direct killing of an unborn child is always immoral, no matter the circumstances, and it cannot be permitted in any institution that claims to be authentically Catholic.”

Because of the hospital’s support for Sister McBride and because of other practices, including their contract with Mercy Care Plan, a healthcare organization that provides services that Catholic hospitals are prohibited from offering like sterilizations and contraception, Olmsted has now declared that St. Joseph’s is no longer a Catholic hospital.  Items belonging to the diocese will be removed from the hospital, including the “blessed sacrament” and mass cannot be held in the chapel.

Catholic hospitals, of which there are about 624 in the U.S,. comprising about 1/5 of all hospital beds, are governed by 72 Ethical and Religious Directives that are written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and enforced by the local bishop.  Some of these directives, particularly those that govern women’s health care and end of life care, run afoul of state and federal patients’ rights laws.  They are maintained because Catholic hospitals are exempt from such laws by a web of “conscience clauses,” despite receiving 50% of their funding from the federal government in the form of Medicare and Medicaid payments.  Less than 3% of Catholic hospital funding is received from the Catholic Church.

Watch footage of Olmsted explaining his decision by saying that the life of a fetus is the same as a woman’s.