Abortion and Excommunication

We now live in a post Roe v. Wade America.

Praise God!

In this current legal situation, abortion is not automatically illegal across the country. Instead, each state now gets to determine its own abortion laws. Some states like Ohio and Wisconsin are passing very restrictive abortion laws. Others, like New York and California will keep abortion legal in almost all cases.

Once the decision passed, I began to notice a number of people on social media, including Catholics, post things to the effect of “If you are living in my state and need to go across state lines to have an abortion, I will drive you!” I imagine that most of these are statements of ideological solidarity than actual offers of transportation. But it made me think that we made need a brief refresher for Catholics regarding the penalty for abortion.

Part of the confusion occurs because there are so many Catholics in this country who identify as “Pro-Choice.” John Paul II made clear in that “Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an ‘unspeakable crime.'” (Evangelium Vitae, 58).

Elective abortion is completely contrary to the Gospel. As with the modern issue of “gay marriage,” Jesus never addresses abortion directly. But as John Paul II writes, “The texts of Sacred Scripture never address the question of deliberate abortion and so do not directly and specifically condemn it. But they show such great respect for the human being in the mother’s womb that they require as a logical consequence that God’s commandment ‘You shall not kill’ be extended to the unborn child as well.” (EV, 61)

Based on the the principles of the Gospel, it must logically follow that abortion is wrong. To put into a simple syllogism.

The intentional killing of innocent human life is murder.
Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human life.
Therefore, abortion is murder.

This sin is so grave that it carries with it a grave penalty:

“A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.” (Code of Canon Law, 1398)

An excommunication is “the principal and severest censure, is a medicinal, spiritual penalty that deprives the guilty Christian of all participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society.” (Catholic Encyclopedia). In most cases, a formal excommunication from the Catholic Church involves a declaration from a bishop or the pope. A “latae sententiae” excommunication is one that is automatic. By virtue of the act itself, a person is excommunicated.

This means that the person is no longer able to have access to the grace of the sacraments. The sacraments are still valid, but they are obtained illicitly. For example, if an excommunicated Catholic receives a Catholic marriage, the sacrament is still recognized as valid, but the graces are not given to the excommunicated person. It is like someone who is in mortal sin receiving the Eucharist, where the Divine graces are not conferred.

No Catholic may, in good conscience, give any kind of material aid to an abortion. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “formal cooperation.” (2272). This includes the woman who has the abortion done to them and doctor who performs the abortion.

But this also includes those who give other material aid. Imagine if someone comes to you and asks for money for an abortion or (as mentioned in the above social media posts) asks for a ride to another state for the purpose of getting an abortion. If you agree, and the abortion is completed, then you would be automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

The gravity of the penalty is there to emphasize the gravity of the sin. Too many people today think that abortion is an issue of bodily autonomy or women’s rights. This obscures the fact that an innocent person is killed because he or she is inconvenient.

This is evil.

The excommunication helps communicate that abortion is evil.

Normally, an excommunication must be reconciled by the bishop. But Pope Francis made clear that this power has now been delegated to priests in the confessional (Misericordia et Misera, 12). The excommunication itself is meant to be “medicinal.” This means that it is never meant to be permanent, but simply a means to help the offender come to true repentance to Christ. The ultimate goal, always, is the salvation of souls.

Paul wrote “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Romans 5:20). Though the sin is great, God’s grace and mercy are even greater and can forgive any sin. We, of course, do not want to become pharisaical about abortion. We do not want to become rule-mongers who lose sight of the humanity of both the pro-abortionists and the children killed in the abortion.

We must be Christ’s love to all.

But please know that if you knowingly aid someone to an abortion, even if you drive them across state lines, then you will be automatically excommunicated.

You will not only cut off the child’s life, but you will also cut yourself off from your life in the Church.

Copyright 2022, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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