A Woman’s Worth in the Catholic Church

Why is human life negotiated when money is involved? (Gerald S. Williams/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT


Why is human life negotiated when money is involved? (Gerald S. Williams/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT


Why is human life negotiated when money is involved? (Gerald S. Williams/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT
Why is human life negotiated when money is involved? (Gerald S. Williams/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT

Lori Stodghill’s death is one that breaks the hearts of pro-choice and pro-life supporters alike. Pregnant with twins at 28 weeks, the 31-year-old Arizona woman died of a massive heart attack after waiting in lobby of St. Thomas More Hospital for an hour. Her unborn children died inside her womb minutes later. It was New Year’s Day in 2006.

Jeremy Stodghill, Lori’s husband, filed a wrongful death suit against the hospital and its umbrella organization, Catholic Health Initiatives. He argued that his wife and children could have been saved had hospital workers been more attentive to his wife’s poor condition. Catholic Health Initiatives offered an especially jolting and hypocritical response: not only did they sue him for $118,000 to cover legal fees, but they argued they would not be responsible for the deaths of the twin fetuses by citing the Wrongful Death Act. Their defense was that the fetuses could not be considered as people because they hadn’t been born yet.

When I first saw the story being reported on CNN I was disgusted at how Catholic Health Initiatives had so blatantly contradicted their own dogma. But the story continued with an ironic twist, deepening my skepticism of the Catholic Church.

Early this month hospital representatives recounted their statement, saying their original defense was “morally wrong” after heavy criticism, even blaming their attorneys for making the statement without their full approval. Clearly the officials at this institution made themselves look utterly stupid, as well as making the Catholic Church look backwards and perverted when money is involved in its dealings. But this situation also tells me that some within the Catholic Church don’t know where to place their values on women or human life in general.

It’s common knowledge that the Catholic Church opposes abortion and the use of contraceptives. However, did you know that some Catholic hospitals such as St. Thomas More deny their pregnant patients crucial, life-saving medical procedures for religious observance? A controversial procedure is systemic methotrexate treatment. It’s a treatment can save women from ectopic pregnancies, a condition that could make a woman bleed to death. Despite it being an important and effective form of therapy, some argue that it violates Catholic ethics, as it directly interacts with the embryo. Opponents to the treatment advocate for taking out a woman’s fallopian tubes entirely. But that’s a futile operation that could severely damage a woman’s ability to conceive in the future. I understand why people feel strongly about taking bold efforts to save young forms of human life, but why does it have to be at the expense of the health and future of the mother? Doesn’t her life matter, too?

I suppose by looking at stories of women like Gianna Beretta it doesn’t. Beretta was a 39-yea-old woman who risked her life by continuing her pregnancy despite having a painful fibroma in her uterus. She died in childbirth in 1962 and was later canonized for putting her child’s life before hers. It is inarguable that Beretta did an extremely loving and noble act for her child. But between denying contraceptives that allow women to be proactive about their family planning as well as denying them life-saving medical procedures involving childbirth, some sectors of the Catholic Church are putting forth a message that women who fight for their lives are immoral.

Part of the tragedy I see in Stodghill’s story is that Stodghill herself isn’t the center of attention. Her life as a mother that had a family who loved and depended on her is obscured by a Catholic institution whose officials don’t even know what they believe in. Because if Stodghill’s life didn’t count, and if her unborn children’s lives didn’t count either, whose does?