It is surely common knowledge that any Catholic who permits her unborn child to be aborted incurs a latae sententiae excommunication. This means that the Church does not need to formally pronounce that the mother has been excommunicated for the abortion, it occurs automatically.
Excommunication is incurred automatically when the abortion has been executed and from that point forward that Catholic may not receive Holy Communion until such time as absolution for the sin against the fifth commandment, and from excommunication, has been received.
There are a few important aspects that must be noted about automatic excommunication:
(1) The excommunication does not only apply to the mother. It applies equally to all those Catholics who were complicit in the abortion in anyway. (Doctors, nurses, husband, family members and anyone else who encouraged/supported the mother; even those who drove the mother to the clinic.)
(2) The automatic excommunication of course does not apply to those Catholics who are younger than 16 years of age and to those who did not know that they would be excommunicated because of their actions.
(3) The excommunication will of course not apply to those people who were forced to commit abortion. Therefore if a woman’s abusive husband physically forced her to have the abortion, excommunication would not automatically apply to her but to the husband.
Getting back to the purpose of my post. I often get the impression that excommunication is viewed, by some Catholics, predominantly as a punishment. A bit like the death penalty is intended to scare people from committing murder or punish them for the murder. I however personally don’t think that excommunication is truly a punishment in that sense.
In my opinion the entire purpose of excommunication is for the Church to make a person fully aware of the gravity of the sin that is being considered or that has already been committed. It is certainly not a sentence gleefully imposed by the Church to punish the offender.
The Church is intent on saving souls. Excommunication is surely the Church crying out to one of its children. It is the Church begging that person to consider the seriousness of the act of abortion, hopefully before committing the abortion. If not before, then hopefully at some point after the abortion was performed. The act of excommunication should lead the person to an examination of conscience and consequently a deeper understanding of exactly what it was that was done.
Once this deep consideration, this examination of conscience, has occurred, we hope and pray that the person will cry out for forgiveness and approach the Church to confess the sin against the fifth commandment, asking for absolution, both from the sin and from excommunication. When that happens, the true purpose of excommunication has been realised. It has restored sanctifying grace and led to the salvation of another one of God’s children!