The U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine in a June 23 statement discussed the distinction between the church's definitions of a direct abortion and a legitimate medical procedure that could result in an indirect abortion.
The committee's statement, which was provided to all of the bishops, came in response to an evolving debate among ethicists and theologians over the excommunication of Mercy Sister Margaret Mary McBride and her subsequent reassignment at a Phoenix Catholic hospital after news surfaced in May about her role in a decision to let an abortion take place there in late 2009.
A copy of the statement was released to Catholic News Service.
The wide-ranging debate has focused on whether the decision by the ethics committee at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center that an abortion could proceed in the case of a gravely ill pregnant woman was a direct abortion or an indirect abortion that resulted from performing a legitimate medical procedure to save her life.
The woman was 11 weeks pregnant and suffered from pulmonary hypertension, a condition the hospital said carried a near-certain risk of death for the mother if the pregnancy continued.