In 2010, the Catholic Church excommunicated Margaret McBride, a nun and ethics board member at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. McBride was excommunicated latae sententiae, or automatically, for approving a therapeutic abortion, which is an abortion that is required to save a pregnant woman’s life. McBride approved an abortion for a woman who was twenty-seven years old, eleven weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and suffered from pulmonary hypertension, a life-threatening condition during pregnancy. Following McBride’s decision, St. Joseph’s lost its affiliation with the Catholic Church, which it had maintained since the late 1800s. Affiliation with the Catholic Church required that the hospital abide by Canon Law, which is the law of the Catholic Church. Under Canon Law, abortion is serious wrongdoing that could result in excommunication, as it did in the case of McBride. McBride’s excommunication illustrated the impact that affiliation of Catholicism with hospitals had on patients’ ability to receive comprehensive reproductive health care.
"Casti Connubii," a papal encyclical given by Pope Pius XI on 31 December 1930, served primarily as a reaffirmation and expansion of the issues discussed in Arcanum, an encyclical written by Pope Leo XIII. It was released to address new threats to marriage and conjugal unity, and indeed is translated "On Christian Marriage" or "On Chastity in Marriage." The document explores the meaning of Christian marriage and emphasizes its threefold purpose as borrowed from St. Augustine: to produce offspring, to grow in conjugal faith, and to show benefit from the sacrament. It begins by exploring the nature of marriage, followed by a discussion of its advantages for individuals and societies, erroneous but common beliefs about marriage, threats to pure marriage, and finally how to address them. Included in the threats to pure marriage is that of the growing popularity of contraception and abortive procedures, at which point Pope Pius XI elaborates on the Church' s statement that life begins at conception.
Emmett McLoughlin wrote People's Padre: An Autobiography, based on his experiences as a Roman Catholic priest advocating for the health of people in Arizona. The Beacon Press in Boston, Massachusetts, published the autobiography in 1954. McLoughlin was a Franciscan Order Roman Catholic priest who advocated for public housing and healthcare for the poor and for minority groups in Phoenix, Arizona, during the mid twentieth century. The autobiography recounts McLoughlin's efforts in founding several community initiatives throughout Phoenix, including the St. Monica's Community Center, later renamed St. Pius X Catholic Church, the Phoenix housing projects, and St. Monica's Hospital, later renamed Phoenix Memorial Hospital. McLoughlin's autobiography discusses his advocacy for people to have greater access to maternity and prenatal healthcare, to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and to birth control in the Phoenix area.
Widely known as a key contributor to the Roman Catholic Church's body of doctrine, St. Thomas Aquinas also published an opinion on the moral status of embryos and fetuses that seems contradictory to the Catholic Church's current standpoint on the matter. Born in Naples, Italy, around 1225 (scholars debate the exact year of many of his life events) to wealthy nobility, Thomas Aquinas quickly proved himself a pious and astute scholar with an insatiable desire for logic and understanding. After receiving his formative education in Montecassino and Naples, Italy, Aquinas joined the order of the Dominicans. His desire for the holy life shocked and upset his family, who lamented his choice of a poor lifestyle devoted to service. To prevent Aquinas from following through with his plan, his family held him captive in the San Giovanni fortress in Rocca Secca, Italy, for nearly two years. After his mother and siblings noted his devotion to the Church evidenced by his daily studies and constant writing (not to mention his dismissal of concubines), they relented and allowed him to take his vows with the Dominicans around 1245. It is also estimated that he officially received his Master's in the Arts from the University of Naples around this time.
Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun known for her charitable work and attention to the poor, was born 26 August 1910. The youngest child of Albanian parents Nikola and Drane Bojaxhiu, she was christened Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu and spent her early life in the place of her birth, present-day Skopje, in the Republic of Macedonia. In addition to her unwavering devotion to serve the sick and the poor, Mother Teresa firmly defended traditional Catholic teachings on more controversial issues, such as contraception and abortion. Indeed, her addresses to Western nations rarely excluded straightforward commentary on the social circumstances and disagreements taking place there. Mother Teresa, a renowned humanitarian, defended her religious beliefs regarding life issues and based her life on serving unwanted people in societies around the world until her death in 1997.
Pope John Paul II's views on abortion and embryology have been very influential to the Roman Catholic Church. He strictly forbade abortion and other threats to what he regarded as early human life in his encyclical entitled "Evangelium Vitae," meaning the "Gospel of Life." His authority on moral and social issues was highly regarded during his lifetime. Known around the world for his peace efforts and extensive writings on everything from poverty and Communism to contraception and reproductive issues, Pope John Paul II's legacy consists of his major contributions to the Roman Catholic Church' s body of doctrine and the effects of his long period of influence on Catholics and governments throughout the world.
Pope Gregory XIV, born Nicolo Sfondrati, reversed the bull of Pope Sixtus V, Effraenatum, under which an abortion at any time of gestation can be punished by excommunication. He supported the Aristotelian distinction between an "animated" and "unanimated" fetus, making abortion of an unanimated fetus punishable by lesser means. This decision contributed to the historical debates within the Roman Catholic Church on when a fetus has a soul, and when abortion was punishable by excommunication.
Born on 24 March 1890 in Marlborough, Massachusetts, to Ann and Frank Rock, John Charles Rock was both a devout Catholic and one of the leading investigators involved in the development of the first oral contraceptive pill. In 1925 he married Anna Thorndike, with whom he later had five children. He spent over thirty years of his career as a clinical professor of obstetrics at Harvard Medical School, and in 1964 the Center for Population Studies of the Harvard School of Public Health established the John Rock Professorship. As a member of the Catholic Church, his faith played an intriguing role in his involvement with the development of the birth control pill, which challenged previous Catholic thought on contraception. Rock's unique position as a Catholic, a physician, and researcher of human reproduction sparked both interest and controversy within the Church as well as popular society more generally, with Life, Time, and Newsweek magazines all devoting feature articles to Rock.
Known for dropping a long-held distinction in the Catholic Church between the animated and unanimated fetus, Felice Peretti was born in Grottamare, Italy, in 1521, son of a Dalmatian gardener. In his early years, Peretti worked as a swineherd, but soon became involved in the local Minorite convent in Montalto, where he served as a novice at the age of twelve. He went on to study in Montalto, Ferrara, and Bologna, continuing his devotion to religious life, and in 1547 Peretti was ordained as priest in the city of Siena.
Pope Pius XII was born Eugenio Maria Giuseppi Giovanni Pacelli on 2 March 1876 in Rome, Italy, to Virginia and Filippo Pacelli. Known for his oft-disputed role in the Roman Catholic Church's approach to the Nazis and World War II, Pope Pius XII also contributed a number of important documents regarding conception, fertility, abortion, and reproductive control to the Vatican's collection of writings and doctrine on procreation.