There are no such rights and belief in them is one with belief in witches and in unicorns” –Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

Modern societies, and even most Catholic universities, have lost the ability to formulate direct responses to moral questions. Instead, moral reasoning has been reduced to competing rights claims invariably supported by appeals to empirical data. The Catholic University of America (CUA) recently proved an exception to this rule, providing an example for Notre Dame and other Catholic colleges to follow. 

Whether responding to promotion of abortion, a drag show, or use of pornography, Notre Dame has consistently dodged its responsibilities, relying on an ill-defined right to ‘academic freedom.’ The response by CUA was dramatically different: after a psychology professor invited a self-described “abortion doula” to speak to her undergraduate class in January of 2024, President Peter Kilpatrick announced not only that the “doula” was no longer welcome to speak on the university’s campus, but also that the professor who hosted the event had been fired.

Kilpatrick, who formerly served as dean of engineering at Notre Dame, articulated a strong, principled response to the event in a January 30 press release that announced Dr. Melissa Goldberg’s termination. Kilpatrick did not engage in the language of competing rights claims which dominates contemporary moral discourse and unnecessarily handcuffs Catholic institutions.

Instead, Kilpatrick prefaced this announcement, saying, “As a Catholic institution, we are committed to promoting the full truth of the human person, and to protecting human life from conception to natural death … we commit to never advocate for sin or to give moral equivalence to error.” 

It is important that Kilpatrick side-stepped rights discourse in this announcement, because abortion advocates themselves, especially at the university level, resort to ‘rights’ of their own.  

On her visit to CUA, Goldberg’s guest lecturer, Rachel Carbonneau, discussed elective abortion care, treatment of the corpses of aborted children, and births by transgender persons—females identifying as men.

Carbonneau is the founder and CEO of Family Ways, a pregnancy doula service that aims to “support your decision-making process as you choose the path that is most meaningful to your family.” As her business assists both women who give birth as well as those who pursue elective abortions, Carbonneau spoke openly about her abortion-related work.

During the discussion, Carbonneau detailed her preference for a D.C.-area hospital that uses “CuddleCots” for aborted children. These refrigerated cribs preserve the corpses of deceased prenatal and infant children, “thereby preserving their appearance, condition and dignity,” and—at least in theory—fomenting emotional healing for parents. Carbonneau commended the use of CuddleCots after elective abortion, saying, “your baby can stay with you for up to two days.”

By promoting the use of Cuddle Cots after elective abortion, Carbonneau does not heal—much less prevent—the deep wounds caused by the transgression she validates and supports. Rather, she encourages mothers to address their crippling wounds by emotionally feeding off the corpse of the child whose dignity they have defiled.

Appealing to cutting-edge medical technology and employing dispassionate biological language, advocates such as Carbonneau seek to sterilize the abortion issue of its moral and spiritual significance. Yet this tactic belies the truth. Modern society appeals to the scientific to describe the things it holds of highest value, the things it worships. Though their language is empirical, their scientific rhetoric merely dresses up their veneration of spiritual ideals such as autonomy and emotivism—it should be no surprise that Carbonneau is also a “Reiki master” of Eastern spiritual practices.

But this illusion of empiricism in matters spiritual forms the foundation of modern political advocacy. And this political advocacy, unlike the framework expressed by Kilpatrick, inevitably begins and ends with the assertion of rights. Carbonneau’s business, Family Ways, in their “Reproductive Justice Acknowledgement,” writes: “Our ethos uplifts our clients’ human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy.” Bodily autonomy is certainly a good thing, but is it a right?

Rights language is problematic because we often have no way to mediate between competing rights claims. The competing rights in the abortion battle are clear: The left asserts the right of bodily autonomy for “birthing persons” while conservatives thunder back about the right to life for people in all stages of human development. Both then appeal to scientific data and expertise to support their claims. 

The public debate thus devolves into two political factions bludgeoning each other with the weightiest gavel they have at hand.

According to the left, CUA’s response to Carbonneau’s lecture violated the right to academic freedom. And in a way they’re correct. For if the picture I’ve painted about the abortion issue holds true, their response is more than an administration bending to conservative media pressure. It’s an implicit rejection of the rights framework that has monopolized contemporary public discourse.

When internal crises of moral significance arise at Notre Dame, the administration invariably fails to act. In neglecting to follow the principled response of CUA President Peter Fitzpatrick, Notre Dame administrators betray their agreement with those who argue for an empirical, rights-based moral and administrative framework. Notre Dame students have the ‘right to Catholic education’ that they pay for. They have the ‘right not to be scandalized.’ Professors who contravene the university’s mission have the ‘right to academic freedom.’ The administration is stuck: ‘how can we mediate between these conflicting rights claims?’

They can’t. Administrators at Catholic institutions must reject this constricting framework of rights and instead recognize that their mission to educate is inextricably linked to the truth. Lies about the human person that mislead and scandalize students must not be tolerated from professors in the classroom, regardless of what ‘rights’ they may (or, in fact, do not) have. 

One can only hope that future Notre Dame administrators will follow the words and example of their former dean, President Peter Kilpatrick: “Fully confident in the clarity given by the combined lights of reason and faith,” may future presidents and administrators at the University of Notre Dame “commit to never advocate for sin or to give moral equivalence to error” and not tolerate others—particularly professors and invited speakers—who do so.

Paul Howard is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. He’s nurturing a newfound love for southpaws on account of their rejection of the right. He may be reached at

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice

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