According to a National Public Radio report, Sister Margaret McBride approved the abortion for a 27-year-old woman who was 11 weeks pregnant but suffered from a serious heart condition. Doctors said the woman faced near-certain death had she continued her pregnancy at the Catholic Church in Phoenix last November.
McBride, who was an administrator at the hospital, signed off on the abortion - in part because of a church loophole that allows the procedure under certain extreme circumstances, NPR reports.
The woman survived.
However, McBride was promptly excommunicated for her actions by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.
"She consented in the murder of an unborn child," said the Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. "There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But - and this is the Catholic perspective - you can't do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means."
The decision was questioned by at least one member of the church.
Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer, told NPR that the bishop "clearly had other alternatives than to declare her excommunicated." Doyle said Olmsted should have shown McBride some mercy given the agonizing moral dilemma. He said the case highlights a "gross inequity" in how the church chooses to handle scandal.
"In the case of priests who are credibly accused and known to be guilty of sexually abusing children, they are in a sense let off the hook," Doyle told NPR.