From pro-life to pro-choice: A lesson in evolution


Alan Flanagan did a complete 360 on abortion - and then a 180, because that's how maths works. Here's his story:

I don't like the idea of evolution.

Not the thing with the ameobas and the fish and the monkeys and then – BAM – Olivia Colman. No, not that. The other form of evolution. The politician standing at a press conference telling us, contritely, that his position on equal marriage, or Northern Ireland, has “evolved” after “considerable discussion” with “those closest to him”. That kind of evolution. The one that feels politically expedient rather than borne of any kind of actual, you know, emotion.

Which is why I'm annoyed with myself. Because when these rapidly evolving bipeds grace television screens and everyone wants to scream at them either  “you insincere bastard” or “where were you a decade ago?!” and I want to join in, I have to stop myself.

Because, unfortunately, I did a little evolving too. 

I like logic. I like Mathematics. I like dictionaries. I like that there are things that are one thing and by being that one thing they must by definition not be other things. I find those kind of rules comforting.

So I used to feel, in my mind, “logical” about abortion. I could see all of these raging argument storms swirling around it like the end of a Ghostbusters film, but at the core of it I felt I had the logic pegged. Life had to begin somewhere – there had to be some distinct point at which there not being any life became there being life. There had to be. It only made sense. 

'Cold, calm reasoning'

I'm not religious; I don't really buy into that kind of malarky. I've been exceptionally homosexual since the time of the pyramids – and to be honest, that idea of logic has served me well on that and many issues. It couldn't be wrong to be gay, because that didn't make any sense. I could logically follow the moral reasoning for why I had no reason to be ashamed. And I can apply that logic to many issues – cold, calm reasoning.

But with abortion? Well, wasn't I an absolute bollix.

I'd have long-winded arguments with college friends – inevitably female, inevitably far more educated about the issue than I was – about why my logic for this thing beginning at this point had to be correct. And that, in lieu of official directives, we should consider conception to be that point. Not bothering to inform my logic with consideration of morning-after pills or the early, unnoticed miscarriages which are part and parcel of natural law. Things, in other words, that would hobble my argument beyond recognition.

I was right. I had to be. So if you ever need evidence that we will never invent time travel, it's that a portal didn't open up at a house party ten years ago, and two women emerged firing lasers at me and informing everyone that the term hovering on the tip of their tongue was “mansplaining”.

So. I was a dickhead. Excellent to put out into the world, but not entirely helpful.

But maybe as an illustrative example it could be useful. At some point I changed my mind, did a slow but complete 360 on the issue – and then another 180, because a 360 is a full turn, and I teach Maths and the world needs to stop saying that phrase incorrectly.

I'm definitely in support of the shouting – the “where were you when...?” exhaustion when politicians and people at large take their sweet time focus grouping their way into the right answer instead of actually speaking from the heart. That kind of anger is genuine and worthwhile. Christ knows I had enough of it during the equal marriage campaign.

But there is that oft-cited middle ground (though let's remind ourselves that the middle ground is on side) and there is that most Irish of sports – a referendum – to think about.

Alan is now a proud member of our campaign 

Alan is now a proud member of our campaign 

Deconstructing logic

So here are some things that made me change my mind. Some will seem so obvious and stupid that they're less advice and more a living document detailing how awful a person I am, but how and ever.

The first is that I started to deconstruct that big fat logic button on the inside of my forehead. Now when I hear someone say to a young person “the greatest thing you can do is stick to your principles” I want to sneak up behind them and add “but only if your principles are not shit – if they are shit then dump them like radioactive waste at the first opportunity”. I don't think it's helpful to be inflexible with one's opinions for the sake of “integrity”, and also think it is exactly zero help when the real world pops round for a cup of Barry's.

When it comes to life, the beginning and the end have the same lesson – there's no exact moment where things aren't, and then are, or vice versa. From the long goodbye of the care home to the first tense six weeks of a desired pregnancy, we know that things aren't just “life” because we like to slap that word on it. 

But that logic button is still there, gathering a little dust but still occasionally flashing. So I found some other logic to take the place of the one that was there before. The logic that says that abortion has existed since the dawn of time, that god knows how many millions of women can't be wrong. The logic that says that legislating against abortion has done next to nothing, and that instead of stopping something you're just taking people in a shitty situation and making them feel even shittier. And the logic that says we're still only barely becoming a world where half the population get an equal say, and maybe we should just shut up and let them take the wheel for a while.

'Listen to your female friends'

That “shut up” argument also, much as it grates, can be a useful one. In the most reasonable way possible, it's been extremely helpful to have friends of mine draw a line in the sand and say “this is the point to which you get to be in this argument, and no further”. These are issues I'll never have to deal with, and it's only right that I stop acting as if we're all just taking part in one big school debate with no consequences for anyone involved. God knows I've drawn that line on a few straight friends in the past.

I also read a lot. Awful as the Internet is (actually I'm a man so I have no idea how awful the Internet is), it's full of them words that you can ingest on your own time. Being pointed in the direction of an article to read can often be the best way to win an argument, because it's not an argument any more – it's them, reading on their own, taking in an issue on their own, with no-one there to make them feel like they have to defend themselves. Here's to words!

And I have female friends. Actual female friends. Not the years of secondary school – and a chunk of university – where your female friends are “hypothetical females”, in that you're not intimately aware of the workings of their bodies and their minds and the crappy things that can happen in both areas. Well, as intimately aware of women's bodies as a prehistoric cro-magnon homosexual like myself can be. These women have kindly and politely nailed me to a brick wall every once in a while screaming “have some compassion, dickwad!”, and I thank them for it.

I'm only one example, I know. One former-amoeba-turned-biped-turned-pro-choice-person, standing at a podium in a suit claiming that my opinion has “evolved” after “considerable discussion” with “my beautiful wife Terri, our three children, and my Lord and saviour Jesus Christ”. And if you want to shout at me about not being there back in the day, and only getting in when the getting was good, then I understand that. I shouldn't have had to change my mind; I should have been there from year dot.

But, as someone who did change their mind, they're my thoughts. Fuzzy up that logic, and present some new logic to replace it (and not a little compassion). Have some honest conversations where you balance your words against how much skin you actually have in the game. And read copious poorly-spelled blogs in the privacy of your own home.

Throw off the shackles of your amoeba lifestyle, strut out of that pond water and into a brand new you. Evolve yourself. And try to be apologetic about it when you do.

Oh, and if that whole evolution metaphor isn't working for you because you don't believe in evolution, I'm sorry but I have a limit and my logic button is currently burrowing its way through my forehead so it can make its way into yours. Run while you can.

Alan Flanagan is a writer, tutor and proud member of London-Irish ARC. See more examples of his work here and here.


Hannah Little