What Exactly Is Excommunication?
Excommunication is a sanction that deprives a Catholic of all participation in the common blessings of the society of the Church.1 It is the most serious penalty the Church can inflict, and is used only in the most severe cases. The excommunicated person remains a Catholic because his baptism cannot be nullified, but he is a kind of spiritual exile, removed from the benefits enjoyed by the members of the Church.
Though the media tries hard to portray it as punitive, excommunication is instead intended to be medicinal. Its purposes are to correct the Catholic and bring him back to the Sacraments of the Church, and to cause other Catholics to avoid his pernicious influence. In fact, the Church does not want the person to remain in this state for long, but ardently desires that he make amends and return to full communion.
Some dissenters strangely claim that the Church does not have the right to excommunicate. However, the Catholic Church has always possessed the right to excommunicate since her founding by Jesus Christ, Who said “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17).2 The Church is an institution, a society of persons, and must have the right to remove those who deliberately oppose the goals of that institution. In fact, every institution must have the right to excommunicate its members, or it will either be incapable of accomplishing its stated mission or might even cease to exist altogether. An armed force can remove members who refuse to perform their duties as soldiers; a legal or medical firm can fire people who are incompetent or who deliberately undermine its goals; and a company that employs pilots or truckers can remove them if they insist upon showing up for work drunk, thereby posing a danger to others.
Some pro-abortionists try their best to create the false impression that Catholics can believe anything they want and still be “good Catholics.” For example, Catholics for [a Free] Choice claims that “If you carefully examine your conscience and then decide that an abortion is the most moral act you can do at this time, you’re not committing a sin. Therefore, you’re not excommunicated. Nor need you tell it in confession since, in your case, abortion is not a sin.”3
Then we have Pamela Maraldo, former President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who said, “I go to church on Sunday but do not subscribe to many of the basic tenets of the Church. That does not mean I am any less a Catholic.”4
But we know what Maraldo would do if one of her department executives told her, “I come to work at Planned Parenthood every day but do not subscribe to many of its basic beliefs. I do not believe in convenience or third-trimester abortions, and I do not believe that we have any business handing out contraceptives in school. That does not mean I am any less ‘pro-choice’ than anyone else.”
You can bet that Maraldo would fire (“excommunicate”) this person on the spot. In fact, Planned Parenthood has very little tolerance for individual or corporate members that do not conform exactly to its philosophy and directives.5
In summary, the people who join any kind of institution are united for a common purpose, whatever it may be. Those who obstinately oppose this purpose hinder the goals of the organization and must be removed.
Obtaining an Abortion
The teachings of the Catholic Church on abortion could not be clearer. Only a person who is willfully blinding himself to the facts could make the ridiculous claim that there is “room for a diversity of opinion” within the Catholic Church on abortion.
The Church not only does not want to change her teaching on abortion ― she cannot change it, because this critical issue deals with fundamental questions of faith, morals, and ethics.
Canon Number 1398 states, in Latin and English, Qui abortum procurat, effectu secuto, in excommunicationem, latae sententiae, incurrat (Those who successfully abort a living human fetus bring on themselves instant excommunication).6
Qui abortum procurat means anyone who works to kill a human fetus in any manner at all. This is not only the abortionist; it may be the boyfriend or husband who drives the mother to the abortion mill, pays for the abortion in full or in part, or who even advises that abortion may be an option in her case.
Latae sententiae means that the person brings instant excommunication upon himself or herself with his act. No solemn pronouncement need be made by the Church or a bishop or priest, and no one else need even know about the abortion. For automatic excommunication to take place, the woman must freely choose abortion. If this is the case, she is cut off from the sacraments until she sincerely repents and makes a good confession. This sanction also applies to the abortionist, attending nurse or counselor, and anyone else who assists in the abortion.7
Canons 1323 and 1325 clarify that a woman is not culpable if she is not yet sixteen years of age, is unaware of the law, was forced to have the abortion, acted out of grave fear for her life, or lacked the ability to reason, except culpably. So if a girl was compelled by her parents to have an abortion, she would not be excommunicated, but if she were drunk (culpably compromising her reason), she would be.
Canon 1398 (quoted above) and Section 2 of Canon 1329 outline quite clearly the penalty for assisting in an abortion. The latter Canon states:
Accomplices, even though not mentioned in the law or precept, incur the same penalty [latae sententiae excommunication] if, without their assistance, the crime would not have been committed, and if the penalty is of such a nature as to be able to affect them; otherwise, they can be punished with ferendae sententiae [inflicted by clergy] penalties.”
In fact, the United States Catholic Bishops have stated quite clearly that one cannot be Catholic and support even the general concept of abortion: “At this particular time abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will….No Catholic can responsibly take a ‘pro-choice’ stand when the ‘choice’ involves the taking of innocent human life.”8 In other words, the term “pro-choice Catholic” is the ultimate oxymoron.
The Case of Chemical Abortion
We must also address “silent abortions” when considering excommunication. The RU-486 abortion pill (mifepristone) is designed to cause an abortion up until about seven weeks of a confirmed pregnancy, so there is no question that using it leads to excommunication just as if the abortion had been procured surgically.
The vast majority of abortions are now performed with chemicals, not with surgery. All birth control pills, injectables such as Depo-Provera, “emergency contraception” like Plan B, insertables like Norplant, Nexplanon or Jadelle, and all intra-uterine devices (IUDs) cause early abortions some of the time. Estimates vary widely, but women using these methods are believed to conceive least once a year on the average, and these new human beings cannot implant in the uterus because its lining has been rendered hostile.
Since most women are completely unaware of the abortifacient effects of these devices and drugs, they would not generally be at risk of excommunication.
However, the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law states that abortion is not only “the expulsion of the immature fetus,” but is also “the killing of the same fetus in any way and at any time from the moment of conception.”9
Some may claim that the probability of fertilization in any specific marital act is very low, and that a woman using an abortifacient cannot know when she will conceive. This is true, but irrelevant. There are two evil moral objects associated with the use of abortifacients:
- The denial of the procreative meaning of the sexual act (which is the moral object of contraception)
- The denial of the right to life of a preborn child (which is the moral object of abortion)
What makes the act intrinsically evil is not whether or not the objective is achieved; it is the voluntary choice of the act itself.
All pro-lifers, whether they be activists or not, should not only be concerned with saving the lives of preborn children, but with saving souls as well. This requires us to educate Catholic relatives and friends about the abortifacient nature of most types of “birth control” and the penalties attached to their use.
Abortion still carries the penalty of excommunication for those whose cooperation in an essential part of procuring the abortion. We must not forget that “abortion” does not simply mean surgical abortion but includes chemical abortion as well. As Catholics, excommunication is not something to take lightly. Rather, we have a duty to know this law and to explain it, as the occasion permits, to misled fellow Catholics.
 For a detailed explanation of excommunication, see the electronic version of the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia.
 See St. Paul’s excommunication of the incestuous Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:1-5) and of the incorrigible blasphemers whom he delivered over to Satan (1 Timothy 1:19-20). Our Lord Himself said, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:17-18). This refers not only to the remission of sins, but also to spiritual jurisdiction, including sanctions. Additionally, numerous Councils have excommunicated those who are guilty of certain offences, referring to them as “anathema.”
 “You Are Not Alone: Information for Catholic Women about the Abortion Decision.” Catholics for [a Free] Choice, reprinted in 2000, page 2.
 Pamela Maraldo, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), quoted in “More on Maraldo.” National STOPP News, January 20, 1993, page 1.
 See, for example, Steven Ertelt. “Planned Parenthood Chapter Quits, Forced by National to Do Abortions.” LifeNews.com, December 21, 2010.
 Canon 2350 states that all who procure abortion shall be automatically excommunicated.
 Of course, a person can be publicly excommunicated as well, particularly if their actions cause scandal to the faithful. For example, Mary Ann Sorrentino, a baptized Catholic who administered a Planned Parenthood abortuary in Rhode Island, was publicly excommunicated.
 National Council of Catholic Bishops, Fall 1989 conference resolution of November 8, 1989.
 “Church Elaborates Definition of Abortion.” National Catholic Register, December 11, 1988, page 3.