A leading bioethicist has asked if women are safe in Catholic hospitals after an Irish nun was excommunicated for approving an abortion to save the life of a mother.

Dr. Jacob M. Appel has taught medical ethics at New York University, Columbia University and at Brown University.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, after her action in agreeing that the life of an 11-week-old fetus be terminated to save the life of the mother.

"The right of a woman to choose her own life over that of a fetus or embryo has not been seriously questioned in the United States and, except in a handful of cases involving women in comas, no American court or legislature has challenged this principle in recent memory," he wrote.

"Even the Catholic Church, whose official doctrine demands that women be sacrificed in order to preserve fetal life, has for many years made no attempt to impose such a draconian policy upon its vast network of hospitals in the United States. Until last week. In a radical move that is likely to inflame the abortion debate even further and, more disturbingly, to endanger the lives of millions of expectant mothers.”

Appel noted, "Like many Catholic hospitals, St. Joseph's has long had two conflicting policies regarding maternal-fetal conflict on its books. One directive states that abortion is never permitted, even to save the life of the mother, while the other notes that ‘operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted...even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.’
"Until this recent incident, pregnant women could safely assume that Catholic hospitals would follow both the law and widespread standards of medical ethics in allowing the second directive to trump the first. Suddenly, that time-honored understanding appears to be in jeopardy," he wrote.