CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. — The Roman Catholic Church has formally excommunicated an abortion clinic director, saying in a decree that her work "is a sin against God and humanity."
An abortion rights leader said Friday that the action may be unprecedented, but a church official noted that a Rhode Island woman had received a letter in 1986 saying she had brought excommunication on herself by helping women get abortions.
Rachel Vargas, director of Reproductive Services Inc., was excommunicated by Bishop Rene H. Gracida of the Corpus Christi Diocese.
"Your cooperation in procuring abortions is a sin against God and humanity and the laws of the Roman Catholic Church," the formal excommunication decree sent to Vargas on June 1 said.
She said she had received two warning letters from Gracida before the excommunication decree. Another Corpus Christi abortion clinic director said Friday that she has received two similar letters from Gracida.
Vargas said she considers herself a good Catholic and plans to keep attending Mass, even though she is now barred from the sacraments, including Communion, confession and anointing of the sick.
"One part of me is devastated," Vargas told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. "But another part is telling me I'm just more committed to the issue of choice. What I believe does not guarantee me a place in hell."
Elva Bustamante, director of the New Women's Clinic, said she received two letters from the bishop and expects to be excommunicated soon.
The last letter "tells us to mend our ways and quit our job," said Bustamante, 48. She said she has been a Catholic all her life but has considered quitting the church.
"I am not going to quit my job," she said.
Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice in Washington, D.C., characterized the formal excommunication as a precedent for Catholics.
"This would mean every hospital administrator who works in a hospital that performs abortions can be excommunicated, or the pharmacist who sells the drugs," Kissling said.
Gracida told Vargas in the decree that she can achieve reinstatement through "a sincere and total repentance and confession concerning the sin of abortion."
Vargas said she thought Gracida was inconsistent.
"Over 40% of women who have abortions at our clinic are Catholic," she said. "Is he going to excommunicate those women?"