ALL week, it's felt as if we've had ringside seats on a re-make of 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', the 1950s sci-fi classic in which aliens infiltrate a town and take over the bodies of local people.
The invaders pass muster as humans from a distance, but their lack of empathy is the tell-tale sign. In the 57 years since the film was released it has sparked parody, copious popular culture references and a debate about its meaning – ranging from an allegory for monsters in our midst to a metaphor for being stripped of personal autonomy.
That loss of self-determination came to mind watching the Invasion of the Body Snatchers pastiche get under way in Leinster House, as ministers hammer out the terms by which a pregnant woman can have an abortion.
Regardless of any compromise they cobble together, the reality is that a pregnant woman's body is not her own in Ireland. The pro-life body snatchers are on a crusade to override a woman's reproductive choices.
Empathy for human dilemmas is sacrificed to their absolutist stance, which maintains that abortion is never necessary. Even though Savita Halappanavar's fate exposes the fallacy.
Spinelessly, the senior Government partner appears to be in thrall to the inflammatory lobbying of these body snatchers. As legislation is prepared, clarifying when abortion is permissible, Fine Gael is shifting its ground – backing away towards the safety of a conservative position.
And all the while, the party is keeping its fingers crossed that it will get something over the line – just enough to shake the European Court of Human Rights off the Irish Government's case, but not enough to incense the pro-life body snatchers in our midst.
Judging by its behaviour to date, what the senior Government partner really wants is an extension of the status quo: abortion outsourcing to Britain via women conveniently continuing to book Ryanair tickets.
Threat of suicide is not the only risk to life covered by the legislation, but it's the hot potato issue. The current wrangling acts as a distraction because suicide due to unwanted pregnancy is rare. I'm more interested in whether reform of the law will make provision for victims of rape and abuse – and if not, why not? Those preyed-upon parties ought to be one of the Coalition's focal points in the proposed legislation, rather than batting back and forth how many consultants should be lined up to assess if a pregnant woman is genuinely suicidal.
After all, suicide as grounds for abortion must be enshrined by law according to the Supreme Court judgment in the X case. That battle is over. And while there are some in Fine Gael who would prefer if it never reached the statue books, the Government has made a commitment and must honour it.
However, the details about the level of medical oversight required reveal something nasty, insidious and oppressive in the way pregnant women seeking abortions are viewed in Ireland. Women will be obliged to dance on the head of a pin to avail of the suicide route to termination.
Whether a woman is evaluated by three consultants, or by six, the Government seems intent on making the suicide option all but unworkable. In following such a course, it panders to the pro-life body snatchers, with their predictions of a flood of women cynically using it for lifestyle abortions.
There's not a prayer of the inquisition plan working. Whoever dreamed up that non-solution is expendable. And in allowing his name to be attached to it, the Bungler Reilly strikes again.
In fact, there should be no question of compelling a woman to go to doctors seeking permission or justification or exoneration for an abortion. It ought to be her decision, preferably made in conjunction with the baby's father.
The Irish state has a duty to provide abortion services to women who need them, but the Government shows no enthusiasm for meeting that obligation. Never were feet dragged so unwillingly to the starting line.
Instead, it downgrades a pregnant woman's input into whether or not her pregnancy should continue. Her voice is the least important one in the debate. Women simply can't be trusted with such an important decision, is the subtext – they are too simple-minded, or too shallow.
And so, while we wait for the legislation that must be enacted sooner rather than later, the eyes of the world turn towards us – baffled that we cannot resolve this quarrel. Dumbfounded that we tolerate a risk to the health, and indeed the lives, of pregnant women. No reasonable person would press for a society in which abortion on demand was the norm. But reforming our abortion laws does not signal a descent into the abyss, as the pro-life body snatchers insist. It recognises reality.
UNFORTUNATELY, it is not possible to legislate equally for mother and child. Ultimately, the rights of the woman must override the rights of the baby she is carrying because it is not yet a person, although with her cooperation it may become one.
The pro-life body snatchers appear to dread the dehumanising effect on society of abortion, even if a woman advances sound arguments for choosing a termination. The dehumanising effect on the mother, reduced to a host womb, seems to concern them less.
If our politicians do manage to make history in Ireland by introducing some limited abortion legislation, they appear bent on doing the minimum, with the maximum reluctance.
No danger of Ireland's reputation as a socially conservative state being compromised, whatever reaches the statute books. But the dog's dinner being made of the legislation suggests that a sequel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers could be shot at Government Buildings: Invasion of the Brain Snatchers.