This is something I've just heard but never verified. Does the Catholic church teach that every woman who has an abortion automatically earns hell no matter what?

If so, then why? And how are other murderers in the bible granted eternal life--like David and Paul?

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    This is really just a particular instance of the generic question "Does the Catholic Church teach that every person who commits insert grave evil here automatically goes to hell?" And of course the generic answer to that question is: No.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Jul 18, 2014 at 22:10
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    @BenDunlap Regardless, it is still a valid question for this site. Also, it is something that other people say, so I like the debunking nature of the prospective answers.
    – user3961
    Jul 18, 2014 at 22:33
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    The Catholic Church encourages such women make use of the sacrament of confession so they are no longer in the state of mortal sin. (If you die in mortal sin, yes, you go straight to hell.) There are other services, like Rachel's Vineyard's retreats, that help with the healing process, too.
    – Geremia
    Aug 26, 2014 at 15:24
  • It goes without saying that any woman who is old enough to get pregnant and has not yet come to Christ is already going there.
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 12, 2019 at 3:19

4 Answers 4


Au Contraire

There is no exception to the sin the Church is able to absolve a penitent from1, even if they should sin until the last moment of their lives:

Catechism of the Catholic Church | ARTICLE 10: "I BELIEVE IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS" | II. THE POWER OF THE KEYS, 979
In this battle against our inclination towards evil, who could be brave and watchful enough to escape every wound of sin? "If the Church has the power to forgive sins, then Baptism cannot be her only means of using the keys of the Kingdom of heaven received from Jesus Christ. The Church must be able to forgive all penitents their offenses, even if they should sin until the last moment of their lives."[524 Roman Catechism I, 11,4.]

The only unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit - matter for another answer.

Mark 16:8-10 (RSVCE)
[...] Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene 9 Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Mag′dalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

If you heard what you asked from one who has suffered from abortion, the above should be consoling and encouraging for them. The number 7 has a very significant meaning in Judaism. My take is that St. Mary Mag′dalene had sin in its totality [completely under the power of those 7 demons - inciting the seven deadly sins? - as far as God would allow them]. The LORD appeared to her first. First step is go, show yourself to the priest2 = confession [a good shepherd should be able to guide once there cf. MattGutting's answer esp. on excommunication, etc.]: “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.” [cf. Mk 10:49]

Si 17:24 (RSVCE)
Yet to those who repent he grants a return,
and he encourages those whose endurance is failing.

Rachel's Vineyard: This or the like may be of interest to women suffering after having had an abortion.

1. [cf. CCC 982]↩

2. [Matthew 8:4 (RSVCE)]↩

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    I wish I could upvote this again, especially in light of the Scriptural citations. Jul 21, 2014 at 15:10

The woman has committed a very grave evil, in that she is complicit in the death of an innocent human being. How much of that evil can be "imputed" to her, that is, treated as "her fault", may vary according to circumstances.

Catholics recognize two broad classes of sin: mortal sin (also known as serious sin), and venial sin. The distinction between the two is that although both are "disobedience, a revolt against God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1850), mortal sin is of such seriousness that it destroys charity in the heart and requires a new outpouring of God's grace to the sinner (paragraph 1855 of the Catechism), whereas venial sin "merely" wounds charity, but does not turn the sinner away from God entirely.

As elsewhere noted, the Church considers sins mortal if:

  1. They involve "grave matter"—a very serious offense against God. Complicity in an abortion certainly constitutes grave matter, since "from the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life" (Catechism paragraph 2270)

  2. They are committed with "a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice" (Catechism paragraph 1859). This may or may not be the case for all abortions; often, it seems, women feel themselves to be, if not coerced, then at least with choices restricted. From what I've heard, very few women have an abortion because they really want to.

  3. They are committed with "full knowledge", that is, with "knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law" (Catechism paragraph 1859). This is another requirement which may or may not be fulfilled in particular instances. On the one hand, if a woman isn't aware of the Catholic Church's stand on the issue, one could argue that she does not have this sort of "full knowledge". On the other is the statement in the Catechism that "no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law" (paragraph 1860)—including the proscription against taking the life of an innocent person. The question would then need to be answered, to what extent the woman believed that she was taking the life of a person.

Even if the woman might be deemed to have committed a mortal sin (a matter between her and God), she is in extreme spiritual danger, but she's not automatically going to Hell.

What she is, automatically (at least, if and only if she's Catholic), is excommunicated.

So what is an excommunication? The Catholic Church considers itself to be a community of believers, and by committing certain gravely wrong acts, people can demonstrate themselves to be (or on occasion can be declared to be) so different from the community of believers that they're no longer part of the community, nor able to function as one of the community—hence, excommunication.

Canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law states:

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

This means, an automatic excommunication without requiring a declaration from an Ordinary (that usually means the local bishop).

Canon 1331, Section 1, states:

An excommunicated person is forbidden:

1 to have any ministerial participation in celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist or any other ceremonies of worship whatsoever;

2 to celebrate the sacraments or sacramentals and to receive the sacraments;

3 to exercise any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions whatsoever or to place acts of governance.

In practice, what that means for the woman is first of all that she is forbidden to receive Holy Communion,or get married, or be confirmed, but not forbidden to be present at Mass. If she has any of the lay ministries of the Church (for example if she is a lector or an Extraordinary Minister) she is forbidden from exercising those ministries). She is also, as it appears, forbidden from doing such things as saying the Rosary (things known as ["sacramentals"][11]).

Canon 1323 does allow for exceptions to this rule as well. The woman will not be excommunicated if she is younger than sixteen years, or if she was coerced physically or psychologically, or if she did not know that in having an abortion, she was violating a rule of the Church (this last appears unlikely to me).

To regain communion with the Church, the standard (normative) requirement is to go to Confession (also known as "Reconciliation" or "Penance"), and confess her sins, and receive absolution.

Generally speaking, the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation/Confession will absolve you from all sins, mortal or not (assuming you're honest with the confessor, and try to confess all the serious sins you remember). But abortion may be different. As I read the Code, it's possible (but not clear to me) that the absolution needs to come from the local bishop. I'm not sure how that would be handled in an ordinary case of Confession.

There are other (extraordinary) means of being forgiven mortal sins. They require, at a minimum, perfect contrition—that is, being sorry for one's sins not because of fear of hell, or some similar reason, but specifically because one has offended against the goodness of God (Catechism, paragraph 1452). These extraordinary means of forgiveness can operate up until the very moment of death.

So: Could it happen that a hypothetical woman who has had an abortion goes to Hell? Certainly; if the woman is entirely aware of the gravity of what she has done, and realizes that it is wrong in God's eyes, and does it anyway because she wants to, and fails to ever repent of it even up to the moment of death, such a thing is possible. But the mere fact that she has had an abortion doesn't mean she is hell-bound. The Church does its best to reach out to women who have had to go through this and support them.

  • IANACL but the word ministerial in Canon 1331 suggests to me that the excommunicated are not forbidden from simply attending mass.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Jul 18, 2014 at 22:09
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    I would +1 the answer if it handled the issue of mortal sin a little more carefully. The Church does not teach that those who die with unconfessed mortal sin necessarily go to hell -- there are multiple extraordinary means of being forgiven for mortal sin -- and it is extremely important to distinguish between grave matter and mortal sin, which your answer kind of does and kind of doesn't. Some revision would be good.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Jul 18, 2014 at 22:15
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    @MattGutting Would you like to add that excommunication should be viewed as a medicine rather than as a punishment?
    – user13992
    Jul 19, 2014 at 3:53
  • @BenDunlap: please review the (now horrendously long :-) ) edited answer. Jul 21, 2014 at 15:02
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    Also, the excommunication that relates to abortion is what is called latae sententiae, which means that it does not require a decree or sentence of a judge to be imposed. Nevertheless, such an excommunication can be "hidden;" that is, known to no one but the parties intimately involved. That is the case 99.9% of the time with this particular penalty. The Church could in a clamorous case "declare" the excommunication; in that case, such a person would not even be able to attend Mass. Oct 14, 2014 at 15:08

That's not what the Catholic Church teaches, nor does it consider things in this language, generally. The Catholic Church teaches that any Catholic that has an abortion is automatically excommunicated by the action of murdering her child. This excommunication would have to be applied by the woman's bishop to have actual force. Here's information from the Catholic Catechism. Paragraph 2272 specifically refers to Canon Law regard excommunication.

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. [Cf. CDF, Donum vitae I, 1] Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. [Jer 1:5; cf. Job 10:8-12; Ps 22:10-11] My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. [Ps 139:15]

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish. [Didache 2, 2: SCh 248, 148; cf. Ep. Barnabae 19, 5: PG 2, 777; Ad Diognetum 5, 6: PG 2, 1173; Tertullian, Apol. 9: PL 1, 319-320] God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes. [GS 51 # 3]

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” [CIC, can. 1398] “by the very commission of the offense,” [CIC, can. 1314] and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. [Cf. CIC, cann. 1323-1324] The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation: “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.” [CDF, Donum vitae III] “The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined.... As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights.” [CDF, Donum vitae III]

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being. Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual.... It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.” [CDF, Donum vitae I, 2]

2275 “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.” [CDF, Donum vitae I, 3] “It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.” [CDF, Donum vitae I, 5] “Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity” [CDF, Donum vitae I, 6] which are unique and unrepeatable

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    This answer needs more support. It needs sources and citations, if necessary, to support what you are saying. Otherwise, it just looks like your opinion. Please edit more to it to make a truly academic answer. Thank you. References: Guidelines for writing effective answers and What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer?
    – user3961
    Aug 28, 2014 at 2:39
  • I hope that helps make my answer much more helpful and reliable for this site and it's users. God bless.
    – Dcn. Andy
    Aug 30, 2014 at 19:24

Abortion is a mortal sin. Mortal sins can also be referred to as a grave sins, grave matter, or serious sins. Those who die in mortal sin go to Hell, there is not some middle place between Earth and Judgment where you can be baptized or learn the Catholic faith as some assert.

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Letentur coeli,” Sess. 6, July 6, 1439, ex cathedra: “We define also that… the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go straightaway to hell, but to undergo punishments of different kinds

There are many mortal sins including viewing pornography and using contraception and many others. For a mortal sin to be contracted there are three requirements.

  • Grave matter
  • Full knowledge
  • Deliberate consent

Full knowledge means that you knew you were taking the action. For example there is a man who surreptitiously mixed an abortion pill into his girlfriend's drink. Because she did not have full knowledge, she did not contract a mortal sin. Some people incorrectly redefine "full knowledge" to be "full knowledge of how much God would be offended" or "full knowledge that the Catholic Church considers this action a mortal sin" thereby making the requirements impossible to meet or making it a disservice to teach someone the Faith.

To get absolution for a mortal sin the options are 1) Baptism 2) Confession 3) Perfect Contrition

1) In the case of Baptism which can only be performed once, the sin is fully forgiven and you do not have to suffer in purgatory for it.

2) Confession. To get absolution one must be Catholic, go to a validly ordained priest (should be a Catholic priest, but in the danger of death the Orthodox is acceptable), one must have the firm commitment that they will not commit the offense again, or else the confession is invalid. Even if are forgiven of a mortal sin you might suffer in the fires of purgatory for it, unless your actions merit its avoidance.

St. Theresa of Avila said that the Majority of Catholic are damned because of bad confessions.

3) Perfect Contrition. For a valid confession one must only fear Hell, but it is possible for one to be absolved via "perfect contrition" which is motivated instead by love for God.

Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 4, On the Sacrament of Penance: “The Council teaches, furthermore, that although this contrition sometimes happens to be perfect through charity and to reconcile man to God before this sacrament is actually received, nonetheless this reconciliation ought not to be ascribed to the contrition itself without the desire of the sacrament which is included in it.”

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    As far as "full knowledge", the Catechism of the Catholic Church appears (paragraph 1859) to require not just knowledge of the commission of the act but also knowledge that it is a serious violation of God's law: "it presupposes knowledge of ... its opposition to God's law." Jul 19, 2014 at 17:08
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    In other words, your answer doesn't reflect current teachings of the Catholic Church. Jul 19, 2014 at 22:43
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    Guys, keep it on the subject of this answer; that's the point of comments. Jul 21, 2014 at 23:06
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    This answer is mixed up about mortal sin, which is not the same thing as "grave matter" -- to say so is to make a category error. The paragraph about "full knowledge" confuses knowledge and consent and contradicts both the present Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Baltimore Catechism.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Jul 29, 2014 at 21:26
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    This did not answer abortion automatically earns hell no matter what?
    – user13992
    Aug 9, 2014 at 18:40

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