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That "Catolicas por el Derecho a Decidir" knows little about canon law seems no bar to their misusing the Code

June 6, 2010

I see little point in reacting to Catolicas por el Derecho a Decidir, the latest group to emerge in opposition to Church teaching on abortion. Groups that simply recycle a long list of long-refuted pro-abortion arguments are not, I suggest, really interested in debates, but in agitation. So, like, whatever.

But, I can offer a few words on CDD’s reported use of canon law.

Per the article: “The Catholic Church is influencing legislation to punish abortion, without taking into account the exceptions to the punishment of excommunication that Canon 1323 of the Canon Law dictates,” Maria de la Luz Estrada, a member of Catholics for the Right to Decide, said at a press conference to launch the campaign Monday.

Are there some exemptions from the canonical punishments attached to abortion? Sure, no secret that. But let’s read on.

According to Canon 1323, women who have an abortion will not be excommunicated if they are aged under 16, or if they ‘acted due to physical force,’ ‘for necessity,’ or ‘due moderation against an unjust aggressor for the sake of legitimate self defense.’ Neither will they be excommunicated if they were ‘coerced by grave fear’ or if they ‘lack the use of reason.’

This jumble of canonical claims requires some sorting out.

1. Yes, Canon 1323, n. 1 exempts from punishment a woman who, on or before her 16th birthday, has an abortion. The canon does not speak to her possible moral culpability for having procured an abortion (nor does it protect abortionists), but it would exempt a young mother from canonical liability for her act. (But, what is CDD’s point? Is the Church pushing for civil legislation to the contrary?)

2. No, Canon 1323, n. 3 does not exempt from penalties a woman who, in procuring an abortion, “acted due to physical force”. This claim is just bizarre, but rather than my taking time, beyond denying it, to prove a negative, let’s wait to see if CDD ever offers some arguments as to why a “physical force” argument should protect mothers who abort their babies.

3-4. No, Canon 1323, n. 4, does not exempt from penalties a woman who procured an abortion on the grounds of “necessity” or while “coerced by grave fear” because, as is obvious to anyone who reads the whole norm, necessity and grave fear do not exempt when the offense “is intrinsically evil.” I know that CDD does not recognize the intrinsic evil of deliberate abortion, but, what can I say, CDD doesn’t get to define moral theological categories.

5. No, Canon 1323, n. 5, does not exempt from penalties a woman who procured an abortion on the basis of “self-defense” because self-defense (assuming it can even be argued, which in almost all abortion cases it cannot) does not exempt from punishment when the self-defense is achieved by intrinsically evil means like direct abortion, et ut supra.

6. Yes, Canon 1332, n. 6, would protect from penalties a woman who aborted her child if, at the time of her deed, she “lacked the use reason.” Short story here: “lack of reason” is a high standard to satisfy, but, yes, it could be argued and, if proven, accepted. (Again, is the Church pushing for civil legislation to hold such women civilly liable?)

Now, who (besides maybe CDD) thinks that getting only two out of six canonical claims correct is a sign of competence?

The wording [of the canons] is open to many interpretations. . .

No, they are not open to many interpretations, at least, not to many correct interpretations. One could, I suppose, multiply incorrect interpretations of canon law ad infinitum, but what’s the point of that? Besides obfuscation.

Angeles Gonzalez of the Jalisco Feminist Agenda, an associated member of Catholics for the Right to Decide, believes the Church is contradicting its own laws.

Okay, well, could I suggest seeking opinions about the Church from someone other than a member of a group that just botched four of its six claims about Church law?

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