I've never really written about the events that led me to become pro-life before. I don't think I've ever even spoken about it in full to anyone.
When I'm asked, I give the arguments that convinced me. But never the actual events that led me to confront those difficult questions.
But recently I found myself in a group of friends (mostly pro-choice), discussing a speech we'd heard earlier. The young guy who gave the speech talked about how wrong and terrible he thought abortion was. And he seemed genuinely upset to me.
I don’t like discussing abortion in most groups of friend because I'm conscious that some of them may have painful personal experience of it.
I think the abortion debate is better fought on agreed public forums. I don't like hurting people I love, no matter how bitterly we may disagree.
But the topic came up. And the opinions on the speech we'd heard came out.
Legitimate criticisms were made about the style and content. But there seemed to be a general cynicism about the speaker's authenticity. Which bothered me.
So I said I thought he looked upset actually. And that maybe he had a painful personal experience that he was finding hard to deal with.
I was shocked at some of the group's response.
Derision. Bordering on laughter.
The notion that a man could be that impacted by abortion seemed to be dismissed as if it was ridiculous.
I was taken aback.
We were drinking, and a heated argument ensued. And I felt the night ended on an uneasy note.
I don't know whether I was right or wrong about that young guy's speech.
That group of friends are good people, and we were all drinking, so maybe I misinterpreted the vibe.
But I went home thinking about how few men in general ever talk about difficult personal experiences. And how people react to them when they do.
And I thought about how few men I've ever heard speak about their experience with abortion.
I've been involved in the abortion debate for over 16 years, and I can probably count on two hands how many men I've heard talk about their personal experiences. Compared to huge numbers of Women, on both sides of this divisive debate.
I wondered how many men are silently living with that pain?
And how many had been unable to live with it?
I wondered how men could be encouraged to talk about it.
And then I realised that I've never talked about my experience either.
Partly because I know my experience is trivial compared to the much more painful and direct experiences many others have had with abortion. But also because I don't like sharing painful personal experiences. Because I'm afraid of how people will react. Because I'm a typical man. (How men were ever considered the braver sex is beyond me).
So I guess I should start with myself.
In my early 20’s I met someone I’ll call Ava (not her real name) for the purposes of this piece.
We both worked in the same place. She was a long way from home, and one day she looked particularly homesick, so I thought I'd invite her out for a drink to cheer her up. We got along really well. One date led to another. And we ended up falling deeply in love. The sort of love I never thought was possible.
At 23 I was sensitive and romantic. I'm sure anyone who met me in the years afterwards would find that hard to believe. But back then I was.
I was creative too. As was she. I wrote poems and songs in those days. We wrote love letters to each other.
I serenaded her from the street outside her apartment and climbed up to her balcony. Which must have seemed ridiculous and corny to passers-by. But to us it wasn't.
And we fantasised about a long future together.
She was the person who got me into environmentalism.
And together we gave up eating meat, and became animal rights advocates.
It was an extraordinary, deep, passionate relationship that had a profound effect on the rest of my life.
Early on in our relationship we had a pregnancy scare.
I was very pro-choice then. Mainly because I was a liberal, socialist, atheist, and all my liberal, socialist, atheist friends were pro-choice.
And all the pro-lifers I'd encountered at that stage were religious conservative capitalists. And I definitely didn't want to be one of those.
So I offered to support her and pay for an abortion if she wanted that.
And that's when she told me about the abortion she had several years previously overseas.
She told me how the nurses had been required to show her the ultrasound scan just before they did it. And how once she saw her child on the screen she told them she wasn’t sure anymore, but they said "you'll be fine" and did it anyway.
She told me about the spiral of guilt and self-destruction she went into afterwards. And how she still thinks about it all the time. And how maybe it had all been made too easy. And she used the word “regret”.
I spouted all the usual pro-choice crap about how it was just a clump of cells, and how she has nothing to regret, and how awful it was to show her the ultrasound, and reminded her of all the benefits she’d gained from that abortion. She got to go to college at a normal age, and travel the world, and isn’t it great. Yada..yada..yada..
And she seemed happy with that.
She didn’t get pregnant. And we didn’t mention it again for a very very long time.
I was working security in a filling station.
Long boring hours of absolutely nothing happening, and no one to talk to.
So I read all the newspapers and magazines that were even remotely interesting.
And then I read all the ones that weren’t. Including the women's magazines and tabloids.
And then I had nothing left to do but think.
At the time there was a massive Foot-and-Mouth disease epidemic sweeping across the UK.
Foot-and-mouth is not fatal to animals. And it’s not a risk to human health either. The animals will recover if treated and cared for.
But that reduces profits. So instead they’re slaughtered and burned.
The screens in every pub, shop, and coffee house were filled with endlessly repeating Sky News images of thousends of dead animals piled-up like mountains, and burning like giant bonfires!
They killed 10 million animals in the space of a few months. When it got too much for civilians they brought in the army. And the smoke that belched from those mountains of burning corpses looked like it was darkening the entire sky.
The images ran on an endless loop, on every screen, for months.
And all anyone seemed to talked about was the money lost.
We were both horrified!
Nothing highlighted the disregard for those animal’s lives more clearly than watching those burning mountains of bodies in the background while some presenter talked about “livestock” and lost capital.
We were both angered by the coldness of treating living beings as if they had no value beyond their cost to others.
Ava moved back home to start a job she really wanted. And we agreed that I would follow her when I’d saved enough money. And we talked about the possibility of building a life together there.
So she went home. And I went back to the security job.
And the endless boredom.
And hours of thinking.
And articles in women’s magazines about abortion.
And then the obvious questions started to creep into my mind.
Did the life of that “clump of cells” I dismissed so casually really have no value?
Aren’t we all just big clumps of cells anyway?
She had used the word “child” herself. And talked about seeing little arms and legs on the screen in the moments before they did it.
Did I say the wrong thing to her?
Should I talk to her about it? Or is it none of my business?
What if it was my child? What if she had been pregnant that time?
I would have paid for an abortion. Maybe even unknowingly encouraged her to abort by being so dismissive of that “clump”.
Why is a fetus less valuable than an animal? Because it’s not conscious yet?
If im knocked unconscious does my life become valueless until I wake up again?
Was I like those guys on Sky News referring to living creatures as “livestock” so they can be killed without thought or guilt, so they don’t cost me money or make my life more difficult?
These questions and hundreds more ran through my mind constantly over the next few months. But I was afraid to say anything to anyone about it. Especially her.
The Gorillaz song “Clint Eastwood” was in the charts and it played endlessly in the filling station where I stood alone for 12 hours a day. Thinking.
At first it was a welcome break from the silence.
But soon it became the soundtrack to my increasingly difficult thoughts and feelings about abortion.
I pretended to be happy and put on a nearly constant forced smile.
But I wasn’t happy. I was tormented.
The lyrics seemed to perfectly reflect my real mood.
“I ain’t happy, im feeling glad, I got sunshine in a bag” over and over again.
I started reading about embryology and fetal development, philosophy and human rights law. And read endless debates between pro-lifers and pro-choicers on the internet.
And in the end. The only conclusion I could honestly defend to my own conscience was that there is no intrinsic difference between a child before birth and after birth, other than location. And I am the same animal at 23 years of age that I was at 2 years of age, or 2 weeks before birth, or or at 2 weeks after conception. That was still me. So if a baby in a cot has rights then so does a baby in it’s mother’s womb.
And this realisation scared me.
A few months ago I would have happily paid to have my own child killed, and i would have thought nothing of it!
I'd have slept soundly, comforted and reassured by my pro-choice beliefs.
And I felt like a terrible human being for having been capable of that.
I was also scared of what this new realisation would do to my relationship with Ava.
Not only was she the love of my life, and my friend.
She was my ally too.
On moral and ethical issues it was usually just Her and Me against the world.
She was my comrade. We were on the same side. And we were a team.
And I was terrified of talking to her about this.
What if she thought I was calling her a murderer?
Was I calling her a murderer? Maybe I was.
I didn't know what to do.
I loved her more than I ever thought it was possible to love someone. And the idea of hurting her made me feel physically ill.
But I couldn't reconcile how I felt about her with how I now felt about what she'd done. And what I would also have done if she'd been pregnant that time with my child.
So I said nothing.
And kept smiling.
And I heard that song played over and over and over again, as I sank deeper and deeper into my own secret internal hell. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. And I couldn't talk to anyone about it.
I was a good actor, so I got away with it for a long time.
Until luckily one of my friends noticed there was something not quite right with me, and started probing.
And finally I cracked. And starting talking about it.
I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't spotted I was struggling. But I don't think it would have ended well for me.
Talking helped, a lot. And it turned out he agreed with my new found position on abortion. And after a lot of talking I decided to go along to a meeting of the local pro-life group to see what that was like.
I expected them to be mostly religious conservative men. And most were indeed religious.
But most, it turned out, were Women.
And one was a socialist. So I didn't feel out of place much at all. Though I was the only openly atheist one there. (A situation that has changed greatly since).
I was able to discuss the issue freely at last. And the discussions were intelligent. Most were well educated. A disproportionate number were lawyers and doctors. I met people who had found the pro-life movement through many different routes. And I traveled to meetings and events and conventions around the country.
I met women who had had abortions. Some coerced, some not.
One woman felt fine about her abortion for years, but after going through a similar period of difficult reflection as I’d been through, had decided to join the pro-life cause, and I was bowled over by her courage and honesty..
I met a man who had paid for his child to be aborted, and later attempted suicide after realising the magnitude of what he'd done. He felt he had failed in his one job as a man, to protect his child, and he joined the pro-life movement to "justify his continued existence" as he put it. And I counted myself lucky that I hadn't done what he did. Because I knew I would have. And I doubt I'd have been strong enough to survive once I realised my mistake.
I met men who had pleaded for their child's life, but ultimately been powerless to save them. Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts came up regularly in these conversations. (I wondered how many had succeeded that we didn’t know about).
One man felt that it was his fault for not being very good with words. And if he'd only been able to plead in the right way then maybe his child would still be alive. He felt stupid, and worthless. And a failure to his child.
But most of the men stayed silent about their own experiences. And stuck to abstract discussions.
I felt my experience was insignificant compared to the pain that some of them were going through.
It was heartbreaking sometimes. But it was a relief to be able to talk openly about it even in the abstract.
And it was like a weight being lifted off my chest.
I was confidently pro-life.
And I'd found my community.
I still didn't know what effect this would have on my relationship with the person I loved.
But I knew I was ready to start talking to her about it.
She had moved home, so I had to do it by email and phone.
It was difficult to talk about my feelings about it. But I was very surprised and relieved when she said that she regretted it, and would never consider doing it again.
I felt like maybe we were still on the same side after all. Still comrades. Still a team.
And i felt happy and hopeful for the first time in months.
I agreed to go and live with her for a while, with a view to maybe living together permanently.
I moved. And things were good at first.
But then her attitude towards the abortion seemed to change.
She talked a lot about the things she had gained by doing it. College, travel, parties. All the things that I had once put forward as great justifications myself. And which now seemed insignificant to me compared to an unborn child's life. She said even if she could go back she wouldn’t change what happened.
Our positions were completely opposed now. So we agreed to disagree. And we tried not talking about it.
But it always silently hung there, like an invisible weight we could both feel.
And one day she pointed out that I had benefited too. Because I wouldn't have met her, and be in this relationship if she hadn't done it.
Im sure she was trying to make me feel better.
But it made me feel worse. Because I knew she was right!
I was benefiting from that abortion too.
This relationship, the most meaningful thing that had ever happened to me, and the love and happiness I enjoyed with her was only possible because of that abortion.
By staying I was benefiting directly from it. And I was choosing to do that.
I couldn't blame someone else for that choice. This one was on me!
That thought weighed on my mind. I tried not to show it. But I think we could both feel that fundamental chasm between us silently pushing us apart. And I could tell that my feelings about it were hurting her, even when we were avoiding the subject.
It was hurting me too. And it started to drag down our whole relationship.
It felt like the world was ending.
But we both knew it was over.
I moved home, and started a course in Galway.
And I never saw her again.
We talked a few times on the phone. But in the age before Facebook people just drifted out of each other's lives forever. And that's basically what happened.
I heard bits of news about her from time to time, and it sounded like she recovered and moved on reasonably quickly. And I hoped that was true. I wanted her to be happy.
I didn't do quite so well.
I was devastated. I cried for weeks. Secretly, in my room, and in the bathroom, and on long walks alone. Because that’s what men usually do.
Eventually I couldn't cry any more. But I also couldn't feel much of anything anymore.
And I didn't really recover for years.
I had relationship's. But I could never feel any depth of emotion or passion for anyone and they all failed pretty quickly.
I couldn't write songs anymore. And after a few years, the numbness I felt just seemed normal. And I forgot what it was like to feel the depth of emotion that I'd felt in that life changing relationship all those years ago.
But life went on.
I joined the pro-life group on campus, which in those days had quite a few liberal lefty types in it. Some of whom became lifelong friends, and still are to this day. Some of them were in the debating society, and got me to join, and that’s where I met most of my other friends. I joined the animal rights society, the Green party and eventually got into student politics.
And directly or indirectly that all happened because of her.
I often wonder if I'd have been happier if I'd never thought about the issue and just kept my un-examined pro-choice ideology?
Or if i'd have been happier if I'd never met her?
I might be.
But my life would look radically different today.
Maybe it was inevitable that falling in love with her, and thinking about animal rights together would eventually cause me to start questioning my pro-choice beliefs. I don’t know.
But I am grateful to her for the many positive roads she started me down. Even if some unintentionally diverged from her own.
I'm aware that my story is unimportant in the grand scheme of things. And my difficulties were minor compared to the more serious and real problems many people face.
But just in case someone else out there is silently wrestling with some of the things I did, and feels alone and unable to talk about it, because it’s too trivial, and men aren't allowed to feel impacted by, or have an opinion on abortion. I wanted to share this.
And assure them that there are some people out there who will listen to even your trivial problems if they feel like big problems to you..
And that you won't always face derision and ridicule for talking about it.
You just have to find the right people. And tell them.
And you never know what positive direction that might send you.