Voting and Mortal Sin

© Copyright 2002 Grace D. MacKinnon

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. Readers are welcome to submit questions about the Catholic faith to: Grace MacKinnon, 1234 Russell Drive #103, Brownsville, Texas 78520. Questions also may be sent by e-mail to: You may visit Grace online at

In this particular situation when there are two candidates running for the same office and one is clearly pro-life while the other is clearly pro-choice, then yes, it would be sinful to vote for the pro-choice candidate. Certainly no Catholic in good conscience could or should vote for such a candidate. But would it be a mortal sin? Let us look at that.

Our Holy Father John Paul II has stated that “abortion and euthanasia are crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.’” (The Gospel of Life, no. 73) [emphasis added].

Thus, we see that politicians who vote in favor of laws that legalize the crimes of abortion or euthanasia are guilty of committing a gravely immoral act. In order for an immoral act to be considered a mortal sin, three conditions must be met: 1) It must be a serious matter; 2) committed with full knowledge of its seriousness; and 3) done freely and willfully. Therefore, if a politician votes in this manner and does so knowing that it goes against the law of God, and it is done freely and willingly, then he or she is guilty of mortal sin. It seems reasonable to conclude that most Catholic politicians are aware that a public “pro-choice” position goes directly contrary to Church teaching.

Some pro-abortion politicians — and the voters who support them — attempt to co-opt the “lesser of two evils” principle by reasoning that some pro-life candidates fail to adequately support laws protecting the poor or the elderly, as if those issues are more important than the pro-life issue. But as John Paul II makes quite clear: “It is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) … even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general” (Veritatis splendor, nos. 71-83).

Now, where does that leave us as voters? Are we guilty of mortal sin if we vote for these people who clearly and openly state that they are “pro-choice” and intend to vote that way when in public office?

Let us look at how Pope John Paul II explains what it means when we cooperate in evil actions. “Such cooperation [in evil] occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself” (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12) (The Gospel of Life, no. 74) [emphasis added].

So, it would seem that if we share knowingly and willfully in the immoral intention of a lawmaker who openly and freely promotes the killing of innocent unborn children or sick or dying persons, then we run the risk of being guilty of mortal sin. It is scandalous to think that any Catholic, or Christian for that matter, could vote for a pro-abortion candidate when there is another in the same race who is pro-life. And yet, they do. Why is this happening?

Often we find that Catholics are not informing themselves properly before going to the polls. Sometimes even our own church bulletins have been used to promote pro-choice candidates. Read more carefully. Become informed! It would be different if there were two pro-abortion candidates. In that situation, we must vote for the one who comes closest to living the full Gospel of Life, but when it is a matter of choosing between two, where one is pro-life and the other “pro-choice,” then we must always choose pro-life. There is no escape from this moral responsibility before God.

At present in our country, abortion takes the lives of over 4,000 unborn children every day and over 1.5 million each year. When we stand before God, will we want to say that we took any part in that? Think about it when you go to vote next week.

A new online pro-life voting guide,, points the pro-life community toward pro-life candidates and makes the candidates' positions on life issues crystal clear. It is a great resource to use on Election Day.

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