Monday, February 4, 2013

Abortion Issues Tangle Debate

Anti-abortion protesters
Thousands of folks in the self-proclaimed “pro-life” movement busily marched around Washington, D.C. last week to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Naturally, they ignored the people involved to focus on the idea of abortion.  Everything to them is so cut and dry, black and white. 

Perhaps they should talk to Jeremy Stodghill, a Denver prison guard involved in a long-lasting law suit against St. Thomas More Hospital, which is owned by  Catholic Health Initiatives, a California-based non-profit that is reportedly the third-largest health-care provider in the nation.

In 2006, his wife and twin infant sons died because the doctors refused to perform a caesarian.  Stodghill felt the operation would have saved the boys, two months from birth, but the doctors argued that they were fetuses.  By law, then, the boys had no rights.


As a result, Stodghill lost his wife and his unborn children.  In turn, the hospital has turned its back on Catholic theology.  Health-care directives authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops instruct Catholic caregivers to “witness the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until death” and always to “defend the unborn.”  Instead, the hospital is relying on the legal protection afforded in the American legal code.

“I understand they got to make their bottom line. Medicine’s not free… They’re in the business of making money. I don’t begrudge them that,” said Stodghill, who has gone bankrupt from all the legal bills.  

So far, the courts have agreed with the hospital.  However, in two previous cases, judges ruled differently.  

In 2005, a judge ruled in favor of the husband after his nine-month pregnant wife died.  Summit County District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle said that the law was not clear, but it “came down to the whole issue of viability. Could that fetus be a person in that it could live independently if that were the circumstance that came about?"  He decided the answer was yes.

Yet, a year later, District Court Judge David Miller ruled in a similar case that the mother could not sue after the death of her unborn child because, he wrote,  “Colorado legislature, not the Court, is vested with determining when and how a wrongful death damages action should be brought in the name of a fetus, whether viable or otherwise. “  Colorado law does not mention fetuses, he noted, so no suit is possible.
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center

Then there’s the case involving St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, which lost its Catholic status in December because doctors there performed an abortion on a woman “who had developed a life-threatening complication,” according to published accounts.

"In a tragic case where both the life of the mother and unborn baby are at risk, we would always attempt to save both lives - and if this were not possible, we would save the life we could,” a hospital spokeswoman explained.

The ACLU followed up with a letter to Medicare after the local Bishop took away the hospital’s Catholic designation.

"The Bishop's drastic and heavy-handed actions send a chilling message to Catholic hospitals throughout the country, as well as their employees: If hospitals comply with federal law and provide emergency abortion care there will be consequences," the letter states. "The dioceses cannot be permitted to dictate who lives and who dies in Catholic-owned hospitals." 

That’s the reality of abortion.  One rule doesn’t work for everyone.   

Not that logic meant anything to the marchers in the nation’s capital.

Archbishop Coakley
The Most Rev. Paul Coakley, Oklahoma City archbishop, told reporters, “The March for Life is not a sprint.  It's a marathon because step by step I think we have to change hearts in order to transform the culture.  Ultimately I think the end game would be that somehow Roe v. Wade would be overturned, and our nation would begin to recognize that we don't need it, that our nation will recognize that life is sacred and life is to be defended from the moment of conception to its natural end.”

Even if that contradicts decisions made by Catholic hospitals concerned about the health of their patients.  Even if doctors would be hamstrung in their efforts to provide the best possible care.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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