Religious Extremism on Campus

Since my last post addressing the links between Zoe’s law an climate change, it seems that the agenda of those who oppose it has taken on the character of a religious purge.

As the bill is currently being discussed in parliament, some of the usual suspects on campus at USYD have organised a petition to support their rally on Sunday. So I went up to a guy outside Fisher library to find out why they thought the Zoe’s Law bill would be bad for abortion rights, given that it has an exclusion clause for medical procedures. Low and behold, he didn’t have much to say to defend himself. When a lady there saw that he was struggling she came over to help him…

After much debate surrounding what Zoe’s law might lead to (including some very absurd claims):

We don’t want police going around investigating women’s bodies… The state can’t invade women’s bodies… The state shouldn’t define personhood… the fetus is part of the woman’s body… etc.

We were eventually able to find something we agreed on (women have rights) so that I could begin asking questions. I thought I’d share with you the gist of how the conversation went (I may have learned a thing or two from the essay I just wrote on the Socratic method):

[Women have rights]

Me: I agree. But why?

Her: Because everyone agrees they do

What if we didn’t all agree? Some people don’t…

They’d still have rights


There’s good concrete material reasons that they do.

What reasons?

It’s just obvious.

Aren’t there the same concrete reasons to view a fetus as having rights?

No! Women are actually in the world.

So you have rights if you’re in the world? Fetuses are in the world too, there just in a uterus in the world.

No, they don’t have rights.

What are the different concrete reasons that make fetuses not have rights but women do have rights, if not being in the world?

I don’t have to explain myself. I’m not a philosopher.

So you just believe it on faith, as an accepted doctrine?

Well yeah, women have a right to abortion.

So you just accept it on the authority of others because you’re not a philosopher. I think you’re just imposing your religious beliefs on people. What right do you have to impose your religious views on others?

I don’t have to talk to you, I’m looking for people who already agree with me to sign the petition.

So you’re not even committed to giving reasons for what you believe?

Has walked away…

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  • Xavier

    This is awesome! You should go have more socratic dialogues on campus. Nice to see someone actually challenging them.

  • James

    Very good points, not so much from the other person. Having said that, it looks like you’ve made a compelling argument for there being no human rights, as opposed to what I assume you believe, that fetuses have rights.

    • Paul

      Thanks! And whilst you’re right to assume that I believe fetuses have rights, I don’t feel that what I said gave an argument to disprove them. In fact, I didn’t really mount a substantive argument at all, I was merely testing if the person I was talking to actually had good reasons to believe what she said she did. This is, in fact, what the Socratic method is about: leading people to realise their own lack of knowledge of what they claim to be expert in.

      I believe there are good reasons to explain why there are such things as human rights (without appealing to authority), and I wanted to see if she could give them. I don’t feel that she did. To mount an actual defense of human rights myself (for fetuses or otherwise) would be another project altogether, perhaps for another post, for another day.

      Thanks for reading though! I appreciate the comments 🙂

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