UPDATE: Thebishops have now said the excommunication would only apply to abortion practitioners, not lawmakers.
“Excommunication applies to Catholics who have acted directly in carrying out an abortion, which does not include those who vote for a law that allows it,” Bishop Heriberto Bodeant, secretary general of the conference said. “Automatic excommunication is for those who collaborate in the execution of an abortion in a direct way, and direct means committing that specific act,” the Bishops Conference explained on their website.
Catholic bishops in the small nation of Uruguay, which will soon become only the second in South America to legalize abortion, have excommunicated members of Congress who voted to do so.
Bishop Heriberto Bodeant, secretary for the Uruguayan bishops’ conference, said the lawmakers essentially excommunicated themselves by voting for abortion.
“Automatic excommunication is for those who collaborate in the execution of an abortion in a direct way,” he said. “If a Catholic votes…with the manifest intention that he thinks the Church is wrong about this, he separates himself from the communion of the Church.”
“Excommunication means you are not in communion with the ecclesial community to which you openly claim to belong by doing something that puts you outside communion, and therefore you cannot participate in the Eucharist,” he added.
The Uruguay Congress approved the law and it now awaits President Jose Mujica’s signature, though he voiced support for the measure while it was under consideration. Deputy Pablo Abdala of the opposition National Party vowed to promote a popular referendum to overturn the law, assuming Mijica allows it to become law.
Human Life International President Father Shenan J. Boquet said he was disappointed by the news that the South American nation is breaking away from the rest of the continent, which is mostly pro-life, prohibiting abortions.
“This is a sad day for Uruguay and for Latin America, which for the most part has stood strong against pressure from powerful Western governments to cut their birth rates to a level with which wealthy elites will be more comfortable,” Boquet said. “Abortion does not save a single life—rather, it takes millions of lives and harms millions of women physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is critical that we continue to educate Uruguay’s citizens and lawmakers about the great harm abortion causes to women, and to the future of a nation.”
He continued: “The pressure was so great in the debate over this bill that some legislators could not in good conscience submit votes and allowed substitutes to vote in their stead. This appears to be reminiscent of the battle in the U.S. over health care ‘reform’ in 2010, where arm-twisting and false promises were the order of the day. It’s a corruption of the democratic process, and not a victory for anyone. While restrictions were put in place to appease pro-lifers, those who promoted the bill will not stand long for any restrictions, and will immediately get to work on removing all restrictions. ”
He added: “The ‘bright spot’ on this dark day appears to be that there will be required counseling on options other than abortion, and a mandatory waiting period. In many cases, these measures allow women to make more thoughtful and life-affirming choices for their children and themselves, and allow loved ones to intervene when a woman is being pressured by a spouse or partner to get the abortion. But the expansion of abortion is never good for a nation, or for any person, and it cannot be approved no matter what restrictions are placed on its practice.”
“This battle is not over. Human Life International and our pro-life allies will continue to push for the protection of the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death,” Boquet concluded.
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The support for abortion from President Mujica is a departure from Uruguay’s well-respected former President, Tabare Vasquez, who has often reminded the people of Uruguay, “legislation cannot ignore the reality of the existence of a human life in gestation, something that has clearly been revealed by science.”
Pro-life groups say abortion is not the answer to meeting Uruguay’s Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by three quarters. In May 2012, a team of researchers at the North Carolina Medical School published a ground-breaking study explaining the reasons for the dramatic decline in maternal mortality and morbidity among Chilean women. The study, which was done “to assess the main factors related to maternal mortality reduction in . . . Chile in context of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” concluded that increasing education level (which modulates other key factors such as access and utilization of maternal health facilities, changes in women’s reproductive behavior, and improvements of the sanitary system) appears to favorably impact the downward trend in the MMR.
Importantly, the study also concludes that the reduction in the MMR is not related to the legal status of abortion: “[P]rohibition of abortion in Chile did not influence the downward trend in the maternal mortality ratio. Thus, the legal status of abortion does not appear to be related to overall rates of maternal mortality.” This study demonstrates that Uruguay can still meet its international commitments without sacrificing its long-standing commitment to its unborn children.