A spokesperson for a major Catholic hospital system based in Ohio clarified to CNA this week that the system does not perform abortions but may, in emergency situations, perform procedures to treat a pregnant woman that indirectly result in the death of her unborn child.

The statement comes following a June 20 local news report that reported that Bon Secours Mercy Health “affirms its stance on performing medically necessary abortions at its hospitals,” which the news story claimed “contrasts the position of other Catholic and religious-based health systems that prohibit abortion procedures, regardless of the circumstances.”

Based in Cincinnati and founded by communities of religious sisters, Bon Secours Mercy Health is one of the top five largest health systems in the U.S., with 49 hospitals across Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky, according to its website. 

Maureen Richmond, vice president of integrated communication for Mercy Health, confirmed to CNA on June 27 that Mercy Health adheres to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which prohibit the direct killing of an unborn child, no matter the reason.  

“A direct abortion is one that intends to end the life of the unborn baby and is not medically necessary as defined by [the directives]. We do not and will not perform direct or elective abortions at Bon Secours Mercy Health. We will always work to save as many lives as we can,” Richmond told CNA in an email. 

However, section 47 of the directives allow for a pregnant woman to undergo lifesaving treatment, even if it means that her unborn baby will die indirectly as a result of that treatment. 

“Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child,” the directive reads. 

Examples of such treatment, doctors have previously told CNA, include the removal of a woman’s fallopian tube in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. Although such a procedure may indirectly cause the death of the unborn baby, it is not considered an abortion because the intent is to save the mother’s life from a serious medical emergency and the death of the child is a foreseen but unavoidable consequence. 

Similarly, treatment to assist a woman after suffering a miscarriage also does not constitute an abortion, because her unborn child is already deceased. 

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Richmond said in emergency situations, Bon Secours Mercy Health providers are expected to follow the directives as well as “medical standards of care in good faith.”

“[I]t is imperative to understand that we are working to save a mother’s life in these cases,” she said, referring to instances when a procedure may result in an unborn baby’s death. 

The question of “medically necessary abortions” has been hotly debated for years, with a June 27 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court adding fuel to the fire by ruling that hospitals in Idaho, which has strong state pro-life laws, must perform abortions in certain emergencies. 

Medical professionals have repeatedly emphasized to CNA that the direct abortion of an unborn child is never medically necessary. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, recognizes the intrinsic dignity and worth of the unborn. 

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism reads. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”