U.S. Catholic bishops voted on Friday for a proposal to create guidelines for communion, the first step in an effort that could bar the sacrament to President Joe Biden and other Catholic elected officials who support abortion rights.

El Paso Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz could not immediately be reached for comment on the vote, which was conducted by secret ballot. Seitz has been a staunch advocate on church teachings about abortion, but also has said that because of a “single-issue” focus on abortion, “many Christians have scandalously turned a blind eye to real breakdowns in solidarity and dehumanizing policies, including crackdowns on worker rights and voting rights, the slashing of social support for the poor and sick, racism and the exploitation of immigrants and the environment.” 

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, was among 60 Catholic members of the House of Representatives who signed a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Friday asking that the bishops not follow through on the plan. 

The 168-55 vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in favor of “drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church” sets the stage for another vote later this year that could deny the Eucharist — one of the most important sacraments in Catholicism — to politicians who support policies that run contrary to church teaching on abortion.The Vatican has sent thinly veiled warnings to the U.S. bishops to avoid this potentially divisive debate.

The proposal to deny the Eucharist based on political stance would require approval from two-thirds of bishops when it comes up in November.

Escobar declined to comment on the issue beyond the “statement of principles” she and the other House Catholic Democrats signed.

In their their letter, the 60 House Catholic Democrats said they were “proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition – a tradition that unfailingly promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life, and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net to those individuals in society who are the most vulnerable.”

But they also said “we too are charged with being facilitators of the Constitution which guarantees religious freedom for all Americans. In doing so, we guarantee our right to live our own lives as Catholics but also foster an America with a rich diversity of faiths.”

The letter accused the bishops of being inconsistent by threatening to withhold communion from Catholic elected officials over only one issue.

“The Sacrament of Holy Communion is central to the life of practicing Catholics, and the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory. No elected officials have been threatened with being denied the Eucharist as they support and have supported policies contrary to the Church teachings, including supporting the death penalty, separating migrant children from their parents, denying asylum to those seeking safety in the United States, limiting assistance for the hungry and food insecure, and denying rights and dignity to immigrants,” the letter said.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.