Restrictive abortion laws are “attacks on women’s rights”, Prof Noam Chomsky said in Dublin last night.
He was speaking at a reception in UCD’s O’Reilly Hall where he was awarded the UCD Ulysses Medal, the university's highest honour.
Queues began forming outside the hall from 5pm as more than 1,000 people gathered to hear his wide-ranging lecture entitled Can Civilisation Survive 'Really Existing' Capitalism? which was hosted by the UCD Philosophical Society and the UCD School of Philosophy.
During a question and answer session after his lecture, Prof Chomsky was asked about the power of people to mobilise political change.
He touched on women’s rights - an issue on which he said there had been “a lot of progress” over the last generation. “The main improvement has been that of women’s rights," he said. "Although they are nowhere near where they ought to be and it's going to be a long struggle.
"There is a strong debate at the moment with regards to a woman's right to control an organ of her own body - namely the foetus. There is legislation being enacted in several US states to define personhood as a fertilised egg.
"Pretty soon you can imagine legislation prohibiting the washing of hands because thousands of cells are flaked off that could be turned into a stem cell and you can grow a foetus - so you're killing a person. It's attacks on women's rights."
He also criticised austerity as a solution to international economic woes, and said the policy could be "suicidal" in Cyprus.
"In Cyprus, they are trying to overcome the next European catastrophe with the suicidal policy of austerity during stagnation - which fails miserably every time it is applied."
Quoting Martin Wolf of the Financial Times , he said the "out of control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from the inside - just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid".
He said this had "a certain grim resonance" in Ireland. "It is thanks to the lavish contributions of the taxpayer - unwittingly - that this destructive system is being maintained."
He commended the success of political activism in relation to the Iraq War and said it had been "striking".
"It was the first in history in which the aggressor was strongly opposed with massive protests before the war actually took place. These are not gifts from above - they come from dedicated, organised activism. Young people are important to this."
Prof Chomsky will this evening deliver the inaugural Front Line Defenders annual lecture in the RDS, Dublin, on Solidarity and Responsibility to Protect .