The rush by some Irish politicians to pin down the date for an abortion referendum is not just an abdication of their responsibility to mothers and babies. It also threatens the independence and credibility of the Irish political system itself.

On several occasions we have been assured that abortion – the most complex and sensitive subject that can emerge in any society – will be dealt with in a reasonable and calm manner and in such a way as to acknowledge the two lives involved. Leo Varadkar, the new Taoiseach, said as much during a debate in 2014, when he accepted that the unborn child was a human life with rights and that there are two lives involved in any pregnancy.

Fast forward a few years, however, and the level of debate about how we treat the most vulnerable members of our society has quickly deteriorated.

Ireland’s health minister Simon Harris has been at pains to insist that he wants to be the minister to bring forward legislation for “this important referendum” in 2018. His words would be more appropriate if he was announcing a referendum to introduce a human right into the constitution, rather than one which would, if passed, strip unborn human beings of their rights under the law.

But leave aside for a minute the human rights considerations. Let’s look instead at how we have reached this point.

Abortion advocates are fond of claiming that their movement is built on the tenets of democracy, but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s nothing democratic about removing the right to life from a vulnerable, defenceless human being. And there’s nothing democratic about how we’ve reached this point in the Irish debate.

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