Like race in the United States, abortion is the continuing radioactive issue in Irish politics.
It's been the subject of umpteen front pages, repeated referenda. It divides opinion in a visceral way in Ireland.
The other week it emerged that the numbers of Irish women travelling to Britain to obtain abortions annually is down slightly on its 6,000+ high. But that shortfall was made up by more travelling to other places, like Holland.
So we are consistently exporting just less than 7,000 Irish women each year to obtain an abortion in another state. That is not the sign of a mature society to export its problems to other jurisdictions.
I have a proposal that I believe steers between the polarised opinions of the pro-choice and pro-life campaigns. This is more than an Irish solution to an Irish problem. I believe it could be a useful template for other countries to emulate.
The pro-lifers, who often are informed by religious beliefs, hold the position that every unborn child has a right to life because they are all wanted, both by God and by society and by some would-be adoptive parents out there.
And sure enough, they are right about the would-be adoptive parents. There's nearly a three-year waiting list just to be vetted to adopt a child in some parts of Ireland. Clearly there are a lot of people who want to adopt children in this country, and not sufficient children for them to adopt.
The pro-choicers, on the other hand, hold the position that a woman should have the final say over her own fertility, and should not be forced through a pregnancy against their will to become a mother when they don't want to do that.
That's a position with a lot of credibility too. People shouldn't be forced to do things, especially things with health ramifications, that they don't want to.
Those positions are utterly irreconcilable, however. So let me try to reconcile them. Here's my proposal:
1. It is not acceptable to export this problem to other countries. So let's introduce abortion on demand in Ireland, limited to 16 weeks or less, and conducted to best medical practice standards worldwide.
2. But let the pregnant woman identify, where possible, the man who got her pregnant, so that the authorities can contact him to inform him, if he does not already know, that she is pregnant.
3. Then, if that man chooses that he is prepared to single-handedly raise the prospective child, is able to demonstrate to a court that he is of sound mind, good health, and solvent, and if he signs a court order assuming sole responsibility for raising the child without any claim upon the mother, under pain of imprisonment if he reneges at any time before the child's 16th birthday, he should be given the chance to raise the child.
4. This will obviously affect only one or two in every thousand unwanted pregnancies. Most men will not be prepared to fulfil the sort of legal criteria I have presented above. But the odd one will, and in those circumstances, the mother will have to carry the child to term against her will.
5. Obviously, pregnancies would not proceed in the case of a medical risk to the mother's life. And any mother who did bring a child into the world in such circumstances would be entitled to receive information about the child every six months if she so wishes and would be able to apply to the family law courts at any time for access, guardianship and involvement in her child's life, at which point any such order granted would dissolve and supercede the order granted to the father prior to the birth.
The logic behind this is as follows: Women should not be forced to carry children against their will for strangers. But there is a strong argument that if at least one of a child's two parents are prepared to raise a child, then that child should be allowed into the world. And that one parent NEED NOT be female.
Currently we have a situation wherein all power over pregnancy and children lies with the woman. If a man gets a woman pregnant in Ireland, then it is up to her whether that pregnancy proceeds or not. He may never even be informed of the pregnancy, if she chooses to obtain an abortion.
If she chooses to have the child, he has no say in the matter. He will become a father against his will. He will automatically become responsible for maintenance payments, but will have to apply (assuming the couple aren't married to each other) for any and every involvement in the child's life.
I believe the answer to Ireland's abortion problem lies in resolving this inequality between parents. People are having plenty of irresponsible sex in this country, as recent revelations that one in five women at one Dublin clinic were suffering from Chlamydia indicates.
So there are going to continue to be unwanted pregnancies in this country. It's time we grew up as a nation and took steps to address that problem.
It takes two to tango so let's make two people responsible for the pregnancies that ensue. If women realised that a pregnancy could be forced to term by the man they'd slept with, then they might be more inclined to use contraception.
And if men realised that they were being held responsible in the whole area of pregnancy and parenting, then they would be forced to give a lot more consideration to their own actions too.
And any children born would have at least one parent who actively wants them, which is the most important thing of all.