ASK FATHER: Are we obliged to avoid businesses which will pay for employees’ abortion?

From a reader…


Are we obligated to cease patronizing businesses which are reimbursing employees for expenses to travel out of state to obtain abortions?

The short answer is: No.  We are not obligated.

This has to do with the sticky topic of remote cooperation vs. direct/formal cooperation.  Another recent issue along these lines was reception of a “vaccine” that might have been somehow related to tissue obtained through abortion.

I checked with some of my usual suspects on this question and the responses were pretty consistent.  One of them said that:

“Where it is local, I think boycotting, with a letter to the ‘owner’ for the reason, would be a good witness. … If we have other alternatives, we should take them.”

Another correspondent said:

“I think we ought not patronize the company. Obliged in conscience? I would say no. Any cooperation by patronizing the company would be I think considered remote not proximate.”

Another said:

“Patronizing businesses is not the equivalent of cooperation in the sin of abortion or any related sin.”

This is a thorny subject because we live in a fallen world. There is no “perfect” company,

How do we weigh proximate and remote participation in evil? If we were to cut out of our lives anything that had the remotest connection to support for abortion, we would have to separate ourselves from society. That might be a heroic thing to do, and it might be the right thing to do for some people. Yet the Church has always maintained that, since Christians are to act as a leaven in the world, some degree of cooperation is acceptable. Consider that St. Augustine, in his magnificent explanation of Christ washing the feet of the Apostles, says that He did that so to encourage them to get out and get their feet dirty in His service: He would be there to cleanse them.  In carrying out the mission He gave them, they would get the muck of the world on themselves.  It’s not an excuse for personal sin.  It’s reality in a fallen world.  It is also a fact of life that when you clean something, you get dirty.

In practical terms, there are also consequence for boycotting. One response, above, mentioned “local” rather than national mega-corp. The local boycott has its considerations as well.

For example, if businesses want to make profits, you want to make profiteroles to help raise money for the Catholic school at your parish, St. Vibiana. You need butter to make profiteroles. You don’t happen to have a cow or access to fresh milk and a churn. Time to go to the store. There are three stores in town that sell butter.  Given the cause, you want to get the best price for butter so more money can go to St. Vib’s.

First, there’s Jack’s grocery store which sells butter at, say, $3.00 a pound. Jack’s is a locally owned store, run by a local man who attends the Episcopal church. Jack is on his third marriage, but he seems to be a nice guy.  Prices are high because, well, the store is in a good part of town and the others are far away.  It seems like gouging, and he’s in an adulterous relationship, but he also employees a lot of people and is active in the community.

Second, there’s Lots ‘O Shopping, which is a national chain, where butter is $2.00 a pound. Lots ‘O Shopping is owned by a conglomerate, but is managed locally by a parishioner, Clyde, at St. Vibiana’s Parish, who has ten children. He struggles to support them. Clyde has the family at Mass every Sunday with his wife, who home schools the kids. Lots ‘O Shopping, as a chain, has made no public statement regarding abortion, but you find out through the interwebs that their insurance policy covers abortions in those states where it is still (tragically) legal.

Third, there’s Foodco where butter is at only $1.00 a pound. No one knows the local manager of Foodco.  The Foodco corporation announced an abortion-friendly policy and will pay the expenses of their employees traveling from states where abortion is now illegal to places where they can legally kill their children.  However, the local Foodco has many employees and provides a lot of support for the special-education school, including hiring students to bag groceries and return carts from the parking lot. The corporation makes local donations to some Catholic charities, as well as good civic foundations.

Where must you buy your butter? Are you obliged to get your butter at one of these stores and not another? Do you forego making profiteroles and do nothing? Do you move away from the town and live in a hut without any electricity because the electric company also supports employee abortion coverage?

Tough choices. Tough times. Pray for better times.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Emanations from Penumbras, The Drill and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. misanthrope says:

    Boundless thanks for your thoughtful response, Father Z. Extremely grateful.

  2. Lurker 59 says:

    Things have changed in recent years. It used to be the case that, when dealing with this issue, what existed were widget companies that supported (financially or materially) intrinsic evil, such as abortion. If you bought a widget from them, you bought a widget not supported abortion (so long as you were not buying from them because they supported abortion.) This is remote cooperation. This started changing sometime over a decade ago.

    Nowadays, what you have is a lot of lobbying/social engineering groups that happen to produce widgets (often at a loss). That remote cooperation is much less remote when dealing with these companies because one is not so much buying a widget but funding their lobbying/social engineering and getting a widget in exchange. Let’s look at Disney specifically the widget Disney+. Disney+ is not being sold at value but undervalued. The expressed intent of the powers that be is that it is a platform to intact/advance/shore-up various social changes. Purchasing Disney+ is much less remote cooperation and a good case can be made that it is more direct than it is not.

    We need to keep in mind that modern “woke” companies are less about widgets than the agenda — that the agenda is primary and is to be advanced at the cost of producing a good product.

    I’d also add that while heroic virtue is not necessary for salvation, it is also not a bar that should be ignored. Like validity in the Mass, virtue is a low bar — if it is valid or it is virtuous, one has met the minimum standards. We should not limit ourselves to the minimum but should seek to excel in holiness, goodness, beauty, and especially charity. These can and should be very personal as we are all unique individuals. Approach such questions from the point of view of “How does this choice glorify God?” “How may I seek to glorify God more through this choice in the future?” If we follow this, we will find ourselves becoming more heroic in our virtue without noticing it instead of getting twisted around in low bar letter of the law morality.

    Because honestly, the question of whether or not eating meat sacrificed to idols is a sin (which is what this question really is) is answered not directly, but what, for the particular situation and individual, increases charity towards God and neighbor.

  3. There are a notable number of God-seeking souls who get bound up in torturous self-condemnation in relation to this subject, and it’s extremely important that people not impose on themselves unnecessary obligations, or suppose the Church, or God, is imposing these on them.

    In other words, those who tend toward scrupulosity.

    All I will say here is that, if you sincerely admit that tendency, then pay attention as our genial host, and your own confessor, wave their arms saying “stop!” I.e., stop torturing yourself with obligations beyond what really, actually, are yours.

    I buy my groceries at a store. I am not responsible for what the grocer, the clerk, the bagger, or anyone else employed at the store, does with the money I paid for my eggs and milk; nor for the use to which the employees put their paychecks.

    I might choose to shop somewhere else because of business practices, or non-business activities of the store owner, but that remains my choice.

    When St. Michael the Archangel and his heavenly companions set up businesses, I will patronize them exclusively. Till then, I must do business with other human beings who do not always share my moral or religious values. And I choose.

  4. Raphael Sabadim says:

    Hi Father,

    I’d end your article with “pray for stronger will” instead of “better time”.
    As our parish Father would say: offer it as a mortification.

  5. TonyO says:

    Excellent answer, Fr. Z, thank you. Clarity on this is so helpful! You may undertake to boycott (or otherwise take action), but it is not obligatory. Even if, for some one person, their highest, most excellent choice might be to do a boycott, for another person who has other circumstances, doing a boycott might actually be imprudent. Particulars must be considered, and even when the particulars taken into account, (and even if you DO decide that boycotting is your best option), that does not make NOT boycotting into something intrinsically disordered. There is room for many pathways in response to be good options, from “good enough” through “better” to “best”, with none of those being sinful.

  6. RosaryRose says:

    All great points. There is only so much time and energy in my day. Tonight I am putting time & energy into our local Coalition for Life meeting to see what our next steps are.

    We need next steps. Keep up the rosaries for those hearts of stone. Pray for ourselves that we will be there to help as needed.

    Get active in pro-life. This battle against evil is not over.

  7. johnwmstevens says:

    What about working for a company that pays women’s travel expenses in order to travel to states that allow them to abort?

    Is this still remote cooperation? [Yes.] Unfortunately, this is a personal request, as this describes my company. My initial analysis says “still remote cooperation”, but I’m not sure and would appreciate input on this matter.

    IOW: Quit and look for another job, or stay and keep taking their money?

  8. bookworm says:

    This question of cooperation raises an issue that has been bothering me ever since Dobbs was announced. If you live in one of the states or cities that has declared itself an “abortion sanctuary” and is now actively inviting women from other jurisdictions to kill their unborn children there, does you suffer some kind of curse or spiritual consequence because of it, even if you have never endorsed or voted for such evil policies? Centuries ago the Church would place whole communities under interdict and withhold the sacraments as punishment for the evil actions of its rulers. Many visionairies like St Faustina and Sister Lucia of Fatima spoke of God punishing nations for their sins. I know this might sound silly or superstitious, but I worry that God is less likely to listen to or answer my prayers or grant me any graces or favors because I live in such a cursed place and have no means of moving out at this time.

  9. happymom says:

    @Bookworm, I think those of us in your circumstances are asked to pray harder, mortify ourselves more, witness more (and better), and prepare for battle. We are the righteous among the wicked in Sodom and Gomorah, we are the leaven, the light in the darkness. We are called to trust in Him and witness, however He wills. Have mercy on us, O Lord.

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