The girl was impregnated by her stepfather who raped her. Because of her age no one suspected she was pregnant until she was four months along and started to become very ill.
The considered medical opinion was (a) pregnancy would be too much for a nine year old and (b) her hips were too underdeveloped to allow for her safety if she were to give birth (the church's position is that she could have had a Cesarean section, but that would be very dangerous also on a nine year old).
I will not ask the question of whether the Catholic Church should have excommunicated the mother and the doctor in this case. That is a theological and moral issue for the Church to work out. I am not a Catholic and therefore shall here have nothing to say about it.
But I do want to ask about the broader ethical issues involved. I hold a pretty standard liberal position on abortion. I do not think that a fetus - at least not during the first 6 months - is a person and therefore I do not believe abortion before the third trimester (after is another matter) is murder. I therefore support the legal option of abortion during the first two trimesters.
Despite this, a part of me agrees with the pro-life stance. I am not comfortable with abortions and agree that the fewer there are the better. And I completely understand where those who are pro-life are coming from and respect their position.
It seems to me, however, that in the case of this nine year old girl we have strong ethical reasons to support the option of abortion. First, this girl would have to deal with being a mother at nine. Second, she had been raped by her stepfather - that is a lot of trauma for her to deal with. Third, there was good medical reason to believe that her health - and probably the health of the babies (she was carrying twins) was in grave danger.
Can we ethically maintain that a nine year old victim of rape and incest be forced to carry twins to term and then deliver them, when the process would possibly be fatal and/or crippling to her?
I suppose much of this turns on the question of whether the four month old twins are persons. According to our best science the Cerebral cortex is not sufficiently developed to support consciousness and distinctly human thinking until the sixth or seventh month. If, therefore science is our guide, we must say that these twins are not persons.
However, the twins are potential persons, and in a strong and non-trivial sense. These twins have unique genetic codes and are developing into actual persons quite rapidly and will be persons quite soon. Nevertheless, I think it quite reasonable to hold that the rights of an actual person outweigh those of a potential person, and that therefore the real dangers to the nine year old mother take precedence in this case.
The remaining possibility of course is the position the Catholic church takes: The soul and body are fused by God at conception, so it is against God's law to take the life a fetus at any time for any reason.
I do not believe this view myself. In fact, I don't accept the traditional account of the soul. But never mind that. If we do not take this position, what grounds then do we have for saying that this abortion was unethical? On the other hand, if we do take the Catholic Position, do we have any grounds for saying the abortion is ethical? In other words, could one consistently maintain that soul and body are infused at conception but that nonetheless in extreme cases - like this one - abortions are, though regrettable, permissible?