Rover alumna and CNN reporter argue over abortion, women’s rights

Two activists with opposed views on abortion came to Notre Dame on March 29 to debate the resolution: Legal access to abortion is necessary for the freedom and equlity of women. Jill Filipovic and Alexandra DeSanctis debated in a modified Lincoln-Douglas style, which gave Filipovic twenty minutes to present her case, followed by twenty-five minutes for DeSanctis, and a final five-minute rebuttal by Filipovic.

Filipovic, an author and lawyer who writes weekly for CNN, argued that legal access to abortion is necessary for the freedom and equality of women. Filipovic’s work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, Cosmopolitan, and Vanity Fair.

During the debate, Filipovic argued, “Legalizing abortion is not in and of itself sufficient for gender equality, but it is a necessary component. You cannot separate women’s freedom from our ability to control when and whether to bear children.”

DeSanctis, is a staff writer for National Review and visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She graduated from Notre Dame in 2016 and has published her work in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. She is a co-author of Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing, which will be available on June 28.

DeSanctis’s argument wholly denied Filipovic’s assertions: “Not only is abortion not necessary for women’s freedom and equality, but in fact, legal abortion has harmed these goals.”

Students, faculty, and guests attended the debate in person, and others watched the debate via the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government (CCCG) live stream. One attendee tweeted, “I was there, and not only was the debate civil and thoughtful on both sides, but the audience in the room listened quietly and attentively to both speakers, and asked good questions.”

Professor Philip Muñoz, director of the CCCG, told the audience in his opening remarks: “Not everyone, as I’m sure you know, thinks debates like this should happen, including at Notre Dame. Some fundamental rights, it is said—and I am certainly told—are not up for discussion. Some views should not be given a platform. Let me note that partisans on both sides of this debate, and most debates, make these same arguments.”

During these remarks, Muñoz explained, “Too often on college campuses today, arguments are censored, speech is silenced, and students are told what to think, not challenged to think deeply and profoundly and clearly for themselves in their pursuit of truth.”

He brought this debate to campus to help students pursue the truth: “One way we pursue the truth is to reason together, and that must necessarily include arguing with one another.”

Filipovic believes that, ideally, abortion should not be debated. In her article “In Defense of Debate,” she wrote: “I find it frustrating that abortion rights are even up for debate. Nothing is more fundamental than the sanctity of one’s own body. It is profoundly dehumanizing and insulting that women keep having to defend our right to not be forced into pregnancy, childbearing, and motherhood.”

However, Filipovic expands her claim: “College campuses, though, are one space where I think it’s particularly crucial for those of us whose job it is to publicly grapple with questions of politics and rights to show up and engage, even on issues we don’t believe we should have to defend and even on questions we believe have long been answered. Colleges are, at their core, places for intellectual exploration, including of difficult and unpopular ideas.”

She continues, “One of the best things you can give a young person is information that challenges their priors and pushes them to defend their views.”

DeSanctis had similar thoughts on whether the debate should even occur. During her portion of the debate, she said, “I know I’ve heard from people who think this shouldn’t be debated at a Catholic university, and I completely disagree.”

In her National Review article “Why I Debate Abortion,” DeSanctis wrote, “Refusing to show up for a debate, at a university in particular, because we both have so much certitude about our own position would be the equivalent of sticking our heads in the sand or ceding the playing field entirely to our opponent.”

Furthermore, DeSanctis thinks pro-life people should not fear the presentation of opposing arguments in debate: “If we really believe in the truth of our position, debate and engagement should never frighten us or be viewed as a concession.”

Though both women wish abortion was not something that was up for debate, they told the Rover they were glad they debated. As DeSanctis put it in her interview with the Rover, “The conversation was honestly even better than I expected, and I didn’t have low expectations. I was especially impressed by the questions that students asked. I thought they were very thoughtful. It showed they had followed along carefully.”

A full recording of the debate is available on the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government website.

Madeline Murphy is a freshman studying Vocal Performance and Music Education. When she’s not thrift shopping or singing with the Liturgical Choir, she can be found babysitting her 11 younger siblings. Please send questions, comments, or biographies of your favorite saint to

Photo credit: Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government