Excommunication and Voting for Abortion

There is a debate about whether or not those legislators vote for the Filipino Reproductive Health Bill are excommunicated. Most Canon Lawyers say they are not.

But Pope John Paul II decided, in Evangelium Vitae:

“The 1917 Code of Canon Law punished abortion with excommunication. The revised canonical legislation continues this tradition when it decrees that ‘a person who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication’. The excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed.” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62).

Any legislators who vote for the legalization or spread (including specifically promoting the IUD), as well as any legislators who vote for the legalization or spread of other types of direct abortion, are accomplices. Without their help innumerable crimes of abortion would not have been committed. The above quoted determination by the Pope overrules the majority opinion of Canon lawyers.

We should also consider whether they are excommunicated in the eyes of God, not merely in the eyes of Canon Lawyers. Canon Law is like the Old Testament disciplines, it must be lived according to the will of God, sometimes dispensed for a just cause or a grave cause, but always interpreted in the light of the love of God and neighbor.

Is voting for an intrinsically unjust law that legalizes and abortifacient contraception formal cooperation with those sins, or perpetration? An accomplice to an intrinsically evil and gravely immoral sin can be either a co-perpetrator or a cooperator (e.g. Evangelium Vitae, n. 66 on euthanasia).

This question is similar to the question as to whether a women who signs a paper authorizing an abortion to be performed on her commits formal cooperation, or perpetration, of abortion. Although she does not perform the abortion, she has committed an act of perpetration, not merely cooperation, because she has procured an abortion. Her chosen act is inherently directed to the death of the innocent prenatal as its moral object. Similarly, if a legislator or citizen votes for a law that legalizes abortion or abortifacient contraception, the act of voting passes the law, thereby authorizing (or procuring) many abortions. Therefore, the act of voting for such a law is an act of perpetration, not merely formal cooperation.

All such legislators are excommunicated, regardless of whether we consider them to be co-perpetrators, who authorize innumerable abortions, or accomplices, without whose help these crimes would not have been committed.

The claim that these legislators are not excommunicated is a Pharisaical interpretation of the Canon on excommunication for abortion. This interpretation in effect says to those legislators who intend to make abortifacient contraception widely available, thereby causing many early abortions: “No, you are not excommunicated! We continue to welcome you as brothers in Christ! Feel free to continue receiving the Lord Jesus in Communion while you go about your work of arranging the killing of millions of prenatals!”

But here is what Christ said about excommunication:

{18:14} Even so, it is not the will before your Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should be lost.
{18:15} But if your brother has sinned against you, go and correct him, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you will have regained your brother.
{18:16} But if he will not listen you, invite with you one or two more, so that every word may stand by the mouth of two or three witnesses.
{18:17} And if he will not listen to them, tell the Church. But if he will not listen to the Church, let him be to you like the pagan and the tax collector.

Jesus says, about ‘your brother’, i.e. a fellow Christian, that if he sins, and will not accept correction from you, nor from a few persons, not even from the Church, then “let him be to you like the pagan and the tax collector”. In other words, he is no longer to be treated as a brother in Christ, but as an outsider. This teaching is essentially on the topic of excommunication. Not only should the Church excommunicate, but the faithful should carry out the sentence by shunning such persons.

And what would Jesus say about abortion and abortifacient contraception? People give all manner of excuses as to why abortion and abortifacient contraception should be legal. But Christ says: “Even so, it is not the will before your Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should be lost.”

When is the Excommunication Effective?

Can. 1398 A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

There is a question as to whether perpetrators or accomplices (in this case, the legislators) can be excommunicated prior to the completion of a direct abortion. Canon law refers to a completed abortion. The interior decision to commit the grave sin of abortion is itself a grave sin, prior to the exterior act. However, does the penalty apply to the woman who decides to procure an abortion, prior to the completion of the act? It does not, because she is excommunicated for procuring (authorizing) the abortion. Prior to her authorization, she is not excommunicated. However, once she procures the abortion, for example, by signing the paper at the abortion clinic that authorizes the act, she has procured a completed abortion and she is then excommunicated.

The Canon is based on procurement of a completed abortion, not on the completion of a procured abortion. Once she has acted to procure the abortion, she is excommunicated even if, by chance or unanticipated circumstances, the child lives. She is excommunicated for her sin in procuring the abortion, not for the outcome of the attempted procurement. Excommunication is always based on grave sin; it cannot be based on circumstances beyond the anticipation or control of the sinner (such as whether the child happens to live).

Similarly, the legislators who authorize direct abortions or abortifacient contraception are excommunicated once they authorize those grave sins. The same is true for all accomplices and co-perpetrators to abortion. Once their act as an accomplice or co-perpetrator is completed, they are excommunicated. There is no need to wait to see what the outcome may be. If the law is passed, but needs a signature of the President, and he unexpectedly vetoes the law, the legislators who voted for a law authorizing any form of direct abortion are still excommunicated.

If a person encourages a woman to get an abortion, gives her the money for the abortion, and drives her to the clinic to obtain the abortion, dropping her off at the door, that person is excommunicated, even if the woman subsequently decides not to obtain the abortion. Once the co-perpetrator or accomplices act is completed, so is their excommunication.

To say otherwise would be to base excommunication, not on grave sin, but on subsequent circumstances beyond the control of the sinner.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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