A department chief at Phoenix’s St Joseph’s Hospital described Sister Margaret Mary McBride as the hospital’s “moral conscience” and a “courageous, valued member” of their medical team.

Sister McBride was excommunicated by the Catholic Church and demoted at the hospital for her role in a controversial abortion case.

Before she was demoted, she was the vice president of mission integration. As part of her role she worked on the ethics panel, which permitted a fatally ill woman to undergo an abortion in the hope of saving her life. The incident took place at the end of last year.

Chief of gastroenterology, Dr John Garvey published a letter in Tuesday’s Arizona Republic.

“Let me assure all that there is no finer defender of life at our hospital than Sister McBride,” said Garvey.

“She works tirelessly and selflessly as the living example and champion of compassionate, appropriate care for the sick and dying. Any suggestion to the contrary is misguided and frankly outrageous."

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted excommunicated Sr McBride, as she “formally” cooperated with the abortion.

The patient was eleven weeks pregnant and suffering from pulmonary hypertension, which weakens the heart and lungs. Being pregnant can complicate the condition and hasten death.

"In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother's life required the termination of an eleven-week pregnancy," read a statement from the hospital.

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